Dickensian poverty levels shine light on benefit cuts ~ Third Force News (Scotland)

by Raymond Duncan

UK ministers need to rethink the scale of benefits cuts after revelations that growing numbers of Scottish families are relying on food hand outs and parents are going hungry in a bid to feed their families.

The head of a charity committed to ending child and family poverty in Scotland branded new evidence highlighting the extent of family poverty in the UK as “a shocking indictment” of UK welfare policies.

John Dickie, of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said reports this week from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) and Save the Children paint a picture of a “Dickensian Scotland” and must act as an early warning signal that UK ministers need to re-think the scale of their benefit cuts.

“Meanwhile government at every level here in Scotland needs to do everything possible within its powers to protect citizens from those cuts,” added Dickie.

“It is vital that Scottish Ministers now invest in their scheme to replace soon to be abolished DWP crisis loans and community care grants and protect the vital lifeline these funds provide to those who would otherwise need to turn to charity handouts or face destitution.”

Save the Children’s Child Poverty 2012: It Shouldn’t Happen Here report was released as the charity, known for supporting vulnerable children around the world, launched its first ever appeal to help UK children.

It highlighted that one in eight of the poorest children in the UK go without at least one hot meal a day, and one in ten of the UK’s poorest parents have cut back on food for them to make sure their children have enough to eat.

The charity’s chief executive, Justin Forsyth, said: “Poverty is tearing families apart, with parents buckling under the pressure of mounting bills and children seeing their parents argue more about money.

“That’s why for the first time in our history we are launching a UK appeal. We need to help poor families survive the recession.”

Meanwhile, CAS also revealed this week that the numbers of Scottish clients at its CAB offices who have made a charitable application has doubled over the last two years to 2,200.

It also revealed that charities which provide emergency food parcels have themselves reported significant rises in clients.

One – the Trussell Trust – alone handed out food parcels to over 128,000 people in the UK in 2011/12 – more than double the number in the previous year.

With half of families receiving food parcels having at least one parent in work, CAS claims the National Minimum Wage is not keeping up with rising food prices.

The remaining 50 per cent often depend on food parcels because their benefit payments are delayed or because of changes to their benefits entitlement, CAS said.

CAS chief executive Margaret Lynch said: “Charities like the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul have always been there to provide practical assistance for families facing a crisis who temporarily could not feed themselves.

“In this recession, there has been an exponential increase in the number of working families and people on benefits who are needing help to feed their children and themselves.”

Lynch echoed Dickie’s concerns about cuts to welfare entitlements, highlighting evidence that suggests the impact of the welfare changes will make the situation even worse over the next few years.

“The welfare state was set up to provide a safety net from cradle to grave,” she said.

“The safety net has been withdrawn and the task of feeding the poor once more falls to the churches and charitable organisations whose philanthropy once helped to feed the poor of the industrial revolution.”

Meanwhile a report produced for the Equality and Human Rights Commission has revealed how policies which aim to tackle poverty in the most deprived areas do not always benefit the poorest people, particularly those in minority communities.

The Heriot-Watt University research showed there was not always a link between the poorest places and the poorest people.

Fuel costs are stoking the flames of poverty 
POLITICIANS also need to raise their game when it comes to tackling fuel poverty, a charity has claimed.WWF Scotland, responding to the number of Scottish homes in fuel poverty having jumped to 800,000, called for greater action to deal with the problem. 

Elizabeth Leighton, senior policy officer at WWF Scotland, said: “The signals could not be clearer.

“The government needs to raise its game if we are to reap the rewards of warm, high-quality, affordable low-carbon homes for everyone in Scotland.”

She said the government’s own studies showed Scotland had missed the first statutory annual target on climate change emissions with emissions from homes up three per cent since 1990.

“The Scottish Government has a real opportunity through its Sustainable Homes Strategy to address the dual problems of climate change and fuel poverty while at the same time winning thousands of jobs for the economy.

“We welcome the ambition set out in the strategy, particularly the commitment to a national retrofit programme but fear it will not be backed up by enough funding to do the job.”

Leighton’s comments came in the wake of criticism of politicians by Brenda Boardman, a leading expert who first coined the phrase “fuel poverty.”

Boardman addressed a meeting in Edinburgh organised by the Existing Homes Alliance Scotland, and criticised the government for failing to back up its words with action.

A Scottish Government spokesman said it had a raft of measures in place to support families and households struggling with heating bills and had allocated a £65m budget to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency in 2012/13.

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