The Greenwich Foodbank: helping those who the Coalition forgot

Foodbank 4

Just before Christmas a group of eight councillors visited the Greenwich Foodbank‘s headquarters in Eltham. We were all impressed by the hard work and determination of its volunteers, led by Alan Robinson who showed us around.

Although a foodbank had been set up by two churches  in Thamesmead in 2009, demand shot up after the coalition’s welfare cuts started in 2010, with people from all over Greenwich and Bexley boroughs beating a path to its doors. With help from the Trussell Trust, the Christian charity that helps foodbanks across Britain, a new borough-wide foodbank was set up in October 2012 by 45 Greenwich churches (including St John’s in Blackheath, which acts as a collection point for donations).

The Greenwich Foodbank is a very well-organised operation that gives out three-quarters of a ton of food and other goods each week. Increasingly, toiletries are given out as well as food: Office of National Statistics figures show that unemployed people on the breadline  are going without soap and shampoo to afford to feed themselves. People can only receive a week’s food if they have been given a voucher by an authorised person working at the sharp end: in Social Services, the NHS, Police, Probation service, or the voluntary sector (need is the only factor: the Foodbank helps people regardless of their religious faith).Foodbank 2

Normally, no-one is allowed to redeem vouchers more than three times: the Foodbank is determined to help people out of poverty, not make them dependent on handouts. As well as giving out food, the Foodbank has put together a cookbook (many of its clients are used to fast food, and find it hard to make a nutritious meal out of the ingredients the Foodbank provides). Giving out food helps alleviate some of the immediate effects of the cost-of-living crisis, but it is not a long-term cure on its own, which is why the Foodbank acts as a “signpost” to other services so its clients can find a long-term solution to whatever problems they face.

But no-one should be pleased that more and more Foodbanks are starting in Britain in 2014: everyone should afford to feed themselves and their families without the indignity of going to a Foodbank. Dave Wilcox, a veteran labour councillor in Derbyshire who helped his local foodbank get lottery money, recently wrote of his “sadness in success”. Like many, he hopes that one day foodbanks will run out of customers, return their money to the lottery, and that everyone will have enough money to buy their own food rather than need handouts. How right he is. Read more of this post

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Coalition Consequences: Benefits Cap hits those in private rented accommodation hardest

coalition consequences logoI have posted before about the impact of the Coalition’s welfare polices in Greenwich, and Blackheath Westcombe ward in particular, and about the cuts in housing benefit which could force many people – including families with children – to have to move out of areas like Blackheath and Westcombe Park.

Since the “Benefits cap” came into force (it is being phased in between 12th August and September 30th 2013), we are beginning to see what the real impact is on families in the borough.

In a nutshell, the government’s new policy is that total benefits cannot now exceed:

  • £500 a week for couples (with or without children living with them)

  • £500 a week for single parents whose children live with them

  • £350 a week for single adults who don’t have children, or whose children don’t live with themold dover road

According to figures from the Royal Borough of Greenwich, about 340 families in the borough are affected by the Benefits Cap. Of these, the council is already advising 110 families – of which 68 (well over half) are in private rented accommodation, not council or housing association homes. Read more of this post

Coalition Consequences: forcing children to move home isn’t fair – and won’t save a penny of public money

The penny has finally dropped for the Liberal Democrats: the Government’s changes to welfare benefits will do little or nothing to reduce public spending overall, will unfairly demonise the poor and jobless, and will prompt a mass exodus of poorer people from many parts of London to poorer districts – and in many cases out of the capital entirely.

So says former children’s Minister Sarah Teather (the Lib Dem MP for Brent Central)  in an interview in today’s Observer, belatedly echoing concerns that many community organisations, trade unions and housing and family charities – and the Labour Party – have been raising for many months. Read more of this post

Don’t believe what you read about millionaires in Council Houses

CIMG1500Superb piece on the Red Brick blog last week about the latest absurdities of Tory Housing policies.

The proposal, trailed in the Guardian earlier this month, to cap “rent subsidy” at a household income of £60,000, (which would mean that a couple on £30,000 each could see their rent rise by about £70 a week) is seriously flawed for three reasons.

Firstly, it would disincentivise work, and discourage anyone in social housing from getting on in life.

Household income of £60,000 may seem like quite a lot (it is certainly more than my household earns in a year), and may seem like a sensible threshold for rent subsidies to be cut off at. However, a family with Mum and Dad both working on average London earnings of about £25,000 each would only need one grown-up child living at home and earning £10,000 a year (working part-time while studying, for example) to hit that threshold. Such families are not, by any stretch of the imagination, rich. But under the Tories plan they would either have to take a pay cut, move their earnings into the black market – or abandon their council home if they can no longer pay the higher rent. Read more of this post

Tackling the loan sharks

IMG00374-20120322-1539When out delivering newspapers for Ken Livingstone over in Abbey Wood last week, I was shocked to find a flyer in the entrance to a block of flats, offering residents cash loans at an interest rate of 1,300% (I have removed the name and phone number of the company concerned to spare them any blushes).

This does appear just about legal, as it does at least say prominently what the interest rate is, and it does say clearly how much someone borrowing £100 would have to repay over ten weeks – a whopping £145, almost 50% more than they actually borrowed. Read more of this post

Making Ends Meet…

Fairness imageWe’re living in tough times. The economic downturn has made it harder for many of us to make ends meet.

The local Labour party in the Blackheath and Westcombe area is starting a campaign to help residents survive financially in this difficult period.
People on low incomes are often treated badly because they’ve got less clout than others.

If we join together, we can make a difference, and help make sure everyone gets a fair deal – from local employers, from banks and other lending companies, from shops and companies you pay for services like gas and electricity.

We’re kicking the campaign off by finding out about the difficulties people are facing in our neighbourhood.

The views of local residents will shape what we campaign for. That’s why we’ll be knocking on doors in our area in the weeks to come. In the months to come, we’ll take up the issues that people have raised.

We’ll do things like fight to make sure local employers pay a living wage, tackle the amount of interest people are forced to pay on debt, campaign for more apprenticeships in local businesses and help people find other sources of credit.

It all depends on what will make the biggest difference in our neighbourhood.

We think the best way to change things is to campaign together to make a difference in our community.

Please tell us what you think the biggest obstacles are for people to make ends meet – and what would make the biggest difference – by emailing bwlabour@googlemail.com