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 Universal Credit cuts and energy prices at an all-time high, causes people to make a choice to eat or heat. 

The government announced on the 22nd of October that they will be cutting the £20 a week uplift given to people on Universal Credit during the covid pandemic, but what with the impending energy price increases, and food prices increasing, what is the government doing to bridge the increase in the cost of living and the poverty trap?

By kathleen De-Vall October 2021

It is apparent that in Stevenage, it is the community that is bridging the poverty gap and everyday people are helping everyday people, so they don’t have to make the choice to heat their homes or eat especially this winter with the increase in energy prices. The Eco Hub along with the help from The Chaotic Angels are working hard to feed the people of Stevenage this winter.

The Food Rescue Hub gets food from supermarkets that would otherwise go to landfill and for a small donation, people buy two large bags of food. People can come to where they set up on a Saturday at the mutual friend in Stevenage, Tuesday at The Attimore Hall Pub Welwyn and Thursday at The Half Moon Pub Hitchin and give a donation for a bag of food. The Eco hub not only feeds the community it helps the environment.

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The Eco Hub team at the Mutual Friend Stevenage Image by Kathleen De-Vall

People for People is a community-run group that helps people in Stevenage I spoke to Kenny Arnold that runs the group. He really understands what is going on on the ground with people that are in this 21st-century poverty trap.

Interview with Kenny Arnold about the community run group People for People. 

Kenny helps mobilize and bring together local businesses that have given people free meals throughout the pandemic and now they are going to do the same throughout the winter because of the loss of the £20 weekly uplift being taken away at a crucial time.

 

Along with community groups coming together to support people with food from the Eco Hub, there is a reliance on food banks. I spoke to Angela Patterson as a food bank co-ordinator at the Vinyard food bank in Stevenage that runs the drop-in centre.  

She said: "Since she started and from beginning of lock down that there has been a increase in people needed the food bank in average she see 75 to 80 people a week.The food bank relies upon on grants and donations from the church as there is no government funding given."

Interview with the people making a difference in their community.

Rob Ranson, runs a restaurant called El bar de tapas in the heart of the old town in Stevenage and over the last year he has provided 1500 meals a week to families and people in need and he intends on continuing this through the government cuts and fuel increases.

 

 The reason he does this is not political he said:

“ The community are good to us they come into our restaurant and spend their money and I want to give back, I have faith in people and would like to think that they are only coming to us because they are in genuine need and it, it’s not for me to judge if they are on benefits or not.”

Ranson goes on to say, " It is not a problem for us, I buy everything in bulk and make traditional English food. it's cheap that way to make a lot of meals to feed a lot of people. I have people coming in to see me in tears of gratitude for the support that we give, it is nice that everyone comes together to support this from my family working in the kitchen, to the people delivering the meals to the community."

 

Le Tapas gives children free school traditional English meals throughout the pandemic in the summer holidays - a just given was set up to help Ranson raised £5000 which he donated to The Vinyard Food Shed and to People for People. 

Image by kathleen De-vall of El de tapas bar

Along with El bar de tapas there are other businesses helping, the Willows Café and JJPs Fish and chips contribute by giving food vouchers to The Vineyard Church foodbank. The Willows Café also gives tea and coffee to support a The Baby Shed any toys donated go towards giving families new toys that they can give to their children at Christmas.

What is apparent when talking to the local community there is not enough being done by the government to ensure that the poorest people are not being forgotten. In a recent interview with Gorden Brown on LBC radio about the latest budget produced by Rishi Sunak, he states: that this budget is not a budget for growth it only scratches the surface that 1% growth is not good enough, people are being forced to choose to heat their home or eat and there is no investment in people to create growth.

Today in the UK there are 6 million people on Universal Credit this is a 33% increase on last year's figures and a 128% increase over the last five, there is a correlation between this and the increase of people that are receiving emergency food parcels.

Number of people receiving three days' worth of emergency food by Trussell Trust foodbanks in the UK from 2008/09 to 2020/21 

Info from the department of working pensions

info from the department of working pensions 

There are 2,000 food banks in the UK 1200 are run by The Trussel Trust and 822 are run by IFAN the Independent food aid Networks.  Between 1 April 2020 and 31st March 2021, The Trussell Trust alone gave out 2.5 million emergency food parcels to people in crisis which is a 33% on the previous year, of which 980,000 of these went to children.  What is apparent is that the need for food banks is on the rise the cost of living is increasing and yet the government are squeezing benefits and reducing the amount people have to live on.

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Image and statistics from the Trussell Trust website 

In 21st-century Britain there is a need for people to come together in communities around the country, this is not just happening in Stevenage people are having to support each other as there is a real disconnect from the Government for the people - how has this happened?

Food banks and community-run groups are supporting people that are in need and the truth is these people could be anyone it could be you, a man that had a good job but because his wife is terminally ill can no longer work as he is the main carer for his wife and children, these are real people with genuine need.

 

The stigma that comes with being on benefits is not always correct as these people can also be taxpayers that have fallen on hard times that have lost their income through no fault of their own. And what with cost of living that has  become so high, food prices are on the increasing and energy bills at an all-time high. It seems that everyday people like The Eco Hub, The Chaotic Angels and People for People are seeing and acting upon something that Westminster is just not.

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