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Poorest And Most Vunerable The Hardest Hit : Especially Those NOT Able To Work !!! Half Of The 8.4 Million Carer Army ? - Page 13 - Carers UK Forum

Poorest And Most Vunerable The Hardest Hit : Especially Those NOT Able To Work !!! Half Of The 8.4 Million Carer Army ?

Discuss news stories and political issues that affect carers.
216 posts
More parents asking schools for financial help, say heads.

School leaders say they cannot sustain current level of support for disadvantaged families.

Headteachers say growing numbers of parents are approaching schools to request financial support or help with essentials, and more children are “embarrassed and ashamed” by their family’s poverty.

In a survey by the National Association of Head Teachers, three-quarters of school leaders said they had seen an increase over the last five years in the number of parents seeking help, including advice on how to access foodbanks and other welfare support.

In several cases schools said they had set up their own foodbanks to tackle food poverty. But nearly 90% of headteachers said they were not able to sustain their current level of support for disadvantaged families, given the pressures on their budgets.

One in five said they had seen an increase in the number of children coming to school hungry.

One headteacher, from east Birmingham, said: “This year has seen additional strain and emotional distress for children as we have seen families being evicted and made homeless. This has not been the case in my 20 years at the school, but in the last two months five families have been impacted upon in this manner.”

Another, from Derbyshire, said: “I’ve seen a pupil eat a biscuit for breakfast and have a mouldy piece of bread as their only lunch in their box – and have parents break down when confronted as they haven’t eaten all day either.”

Another head, from Brent in north London, said: “Children are hungry, so we feed them breakfast and lunch and run a foodbank. Otherwise they cannot learn. Families are living in one room in shared houses with several other families. Families are sharing a bed. This means children are not getting a night’s sleep. Children are embarrassed by their clothing, so they act out or appear withdrawn.”

Judy Shaw, the NAHT’s president, said: “I call upon our government to lift their eyes from their Brexit dossiers, look around them and offer recognition, understanding, compassion and immediate support. Don’t leave it to schools to pick up the pieces alone.”

The education secretary, Damian Hinds, addressed the NAHT’s annual conference in Telford on Friday, saying he was determined to extract more funding from the Treasury in the forthcoming spending review.

Asked why he had not raised teachers’ pay, as recommended by the government’s advisory body, he said he did not “want to put more financial pressures on to schools”.

The Department for Education announced a £10m package for schools needing to improve discipline, include funds for consultations with the behaviour guru Tom Bennett.

Hinds also said school staff needed greater protection from parents on social media. “While attention is mainly focused on protecting young people from possible online danger, they are not the only victims. Teachers and leaders can be vulnerable too,” he told journalists.

“Teachers and leaders simply should not be subject to online abuse simply for doing their jobs and I’m 100% behind making sure the entire school workforce go about their business free from intimidation. No teacher should have to put up with sometimes vitriolic comments, and we need to make sure they are protected for that.”
Benefit cuts have made private renting unaffordable.

Renting privately across most of England has become unaffordable for people on benefits, housing charities have warned, with people in some areas short of at least £100 a month ... upto £ 300 not unknown.

Analysis by the BBC has shown the gap between rent and Local Housing Allowance (LHA) more than doubled across most of the country since 2016.

Shelter said people were having to "choose between food and rent".

The government said it had targeted extra funding at low-income households.

Working age benefits were frozen for four years in 2016, while rents have continued to rise.

LHA, housing benefit for people in private rented accommodation, is calculated based on rents in 152 "broad rental market areas".

It means about three in 10 properties for rent in each area should be affordable to someone on housing benefit.

However in 85 areas the gap between the cheapest third of rents and LHA was more than £50 a month for a two-bedroom home and in 32 it was more than £100.

Since 2016 the gap has at least doubled in 75 areas, while a further 29 now have a gap when they did not before.

Separate research published by the charity Crisis and the Chartered Institute of Housing suggested 97% of areas in England, 82% in Wales, and 67% in Scotland were "unaffordable to single people, couples and small families".

" We moved hundreds of miles to a house we'd never even seen."

Krystyna and Geoff Boswell receive about £93 a week to help with the cost of renting in north Cornwall. However, their rent is £160 a week and the rest of the money has to come from their disability benefits.

Mrs Boswell, aged 59, has Aspergers and dyspraxia and her husband, 61, has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

They sold their home in Wolverhampton in 2012 after Mr Boswell was made redundant and rented for four years before their landlord decided to sell the flat.

Mrs Boswell said none of the letting agents they approached would consider the couple and they could not get a council house.

"We would have ended up homeless and on the street if it hadn't been for someone at the local church who had a connection in north Cornwall who knew of a house becoming ready to let in her village," she said.

The couple packed up and drove more than 200 miles.

"We didn't even see the house before we moved in," Mrs Boswell said.

"We receive the LHA for a one-bed property, which is ludicrously out of line with the true cost of private rents," she said.


What is Local Housing Allowance ?

LHA was introduced in 2008 and is used to calculate housing benefit for people in private rented accommodation.

About 860,000 households in England receive this benefit with a further 300,000 on the housing element of Universal Credit.

The rates they get vary from area to area and are compared with 30% of the local rental market.

There are different rates for shared accommodation, one-bed, two-bed, three-bed, four-bed and five-bed homes and people's entitlement is based on how many rooms they are deemed to need.

Choosing between food and rent

Shelter said any gap between LHA and the bottom third of rents made housing "unaffordable" for people on benefits.

Polly Neate, chief executive, said: "Even the cheapest rents are now beyond reach to claimants."

"We hear from people having to scrape together over £100 a month, sometimes from their disability benefits, to make up the shortfall," she said.

"For some, this means choosing between food and rent, between their children's shoes and rent. If LHA rates remain stuck where they are then people will keep being plunged into the misery of homelessness as a direct result."

She called for the government to lift the freeze on LHA rates "so they can at least cover the bottom third of the local rental market."

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, added: "More and more people are forced to make impossible choices between keeping up with the rent and paying for essentials like food and bills, all the while knowing that falling behind with payments could cost them their homes."

He said benefits needed to be brought "back in step with the true cost of renting" to prevent people becoming homeless.

John Stewart, policy manager for the Residential Landlords Association, said: "If the government wants the private rented sector to pick up social housing supply then there is a cost to that and Local Housing Allowance does not meet that cost.

"If a landlord can rent a property at the full market rate they will be more likely to choose the tenant who is not on benefits.

"The government needs to look at the freeze again. Restoring the housing element of benefits to 30% of market rents would be a clear step in the right direction."

A government spokeswoman said: "Since 2010 we have delivered more than 400,000 affordable properties, we spend around £23bn a year on Housing Benefit and have provided local authorities with £1bn to support vulnerable claimants.

"We have increased more than 360 LHA rates this year, by targeting extra funding at low-income households, and the government has no intention of extending the current benefit freeze."

Welfare shake-up " Will double number of children in poverty."

Half of low-income families will lose thousands of pounds a year, warns new study.

Flagship welfare reforms will trigger a big increase in families unable to make ends meet, new analysis reveals.

The number of children living in families that have a monthly deficit will double in some areas, because of the combined impact of universal credit, a two-child limit on some welfare payments and the benefits cap.

The research, produced for the children’s commissioner, found that a quarter of children in its sample would be hit by the measures. Almost half of low-income households examined were affected, losing on average £3,441 a year.

Charities and researchers are already warning of rising child poverty. Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, has been attempting to soften the government’s reforms, putting more money into universal credit, limiting the two-child policy and sanctioning fewer claimants.

However, the Policy in Practice consultancy found that the combined effects of the three welfare reforms still meant that 25% of children in its study were in low-income families who would be unable to make ends meet.

Without the policies, only 13% would be in households spending more than their income. Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said: “The two-child cap penalises children who can’t choose their birth order or the number of siblings their parents are having. Putting children in a position where they are worse off through no fault of their own is morally wrong and risks damaging the life chances of already vulnerable children.”

Adam Corlett, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said that welfare cuts announced four years ago kicked in only last month. “These cuts are the culmination of a significant retrenchment of support with children,” he said. “The result is more children living in poverty. Absolute child poverty rose last year, and we expect relative child poverty to rise in the years ahead.”

The new analysis looked at families receiving housing benefit and help with their council tax across 19 councils. It covered a sample of 128,119 households with 257,648 children, but the findings may not be representative of the country as a whole.

It also examined the five-week wait that new universal credit recipients have to endure before receiving their first payment. In response, the government has made significant use of advance payments, which are handed to claimants and clawed back later.

The study found that the practice of recouping advance payments would plunge one in 10 low-paid households into deficit. It also found that a fifth of low-pay households facing a cash shortfall would no longer do so if the two-child limit was abolished. Those households would be £366 a month better off on average.

However, it found that universal credit made 56% of households better off by £172 a month, although 40% are worse off and lose £181 on average.

Frank Field, who chairs the work and pensions select committee, said: “The secretary of state – having inherited these policies – is now faced with the unenviable task of trying to turn the ship around. As a first move, s he will need to take a long, hard look into the face of poverty in this country and begin to ensure that the Department for Work and Pensions, in every single case, acts in a way that is fit for any family – whether it’s hers or anybody else’s.”

It is hoped the new research will help local authorities keep track of children in poor families who may be at risk and design early intervention strategies to help them. Deven Ghelani, founder of Policy in Practice, said: “The government needs to make this information more accessible, so it can be used to help those that most need it.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “Policy in Practice’s own analysis shows that 56% of families are better off now than under the old system. Universal credit is a force for good which will see an extra 200,000 people move into work and 700,000 families increase their income.”.

“More than 1.8 million people across the UK are getting tailored support through universal credit and people can get their first payment in full as an advance on day one of their claim and repayments can be adjusted in certain circumstances. We also recently announced that all children born before 6 April 2017 will continue to be supported by the benefit.””
As if the dice weren't loaded ?

Britain risks heading to US levels of inequality, warns top economist,

Sir Angus Deaton says UK is at risk of extreme inequality in pay, wealth and health,


Rising inequality in Britain risks putting the country on the same path as the US to become one of the most unequal nations on earth, according to a Nobel-prize winning economist.

Sir Angus Deaton is leading a landmark review of inequality in the UK amid fears that the country is at a tipping point due to a decade of stagnant pay growth for British workers. The Institute for Fiscal Studies thinktank, which is working with Deaton on the study, said the British-born economist would “point to the risk of the UK following the US” which has extreme inequality levels in pay, wealth and health.

Speaking to the Guardian at the launch of the study, he said: “There’s a real question about whether democratic capitalism is working, when it’s only working for part of the population.

“There are things where Britain is still doing a lot better [than the US]. What we have to do is to make sure the UK is inoculated from some of the horrors that have happened in the US.”

His warning comes as analysis from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) showed that real wages in the finance sector had outstripped average salaries in the UK over the decade since the financial crisis. Earnings after inflation in the finance sector have grown by as much as £120 a week on average, compared with the average British worker still being about £17 a week worse off after taking account of rising living costs over the past decade.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said: “It’s not right that pay is racing ahead in the City when most working people are still worse off than a decade ago.”

Deaton said geographical inequality appeared to be a factor in the UK, with London benefiting disproportionately compared with other parts of the country.

“People really feel that not everybody is having a fair crack anymore,” the US-based economist said. “There’s a sense that if you live in one part of Britain away from the capital, lots of bad things are happening, while lots of good things are happening in the capital – and you don’t see why you should be left behind that way.”

Deaton, a professor at Princeton, won the Nobel prize in his field for work charting global developments in health, wellbeing and inequality in 2015.

The US is ranked on some measures among the most unequal of major nations. Pay for non-college-educated men has not risen for five decades, while mortality for less-educated white men and women in middle age has led to average life expectancy to fall for the past three years, something that has not happened for a century.

Launched amid growing international concern over inequality and the rise of more extreme political ideologies in several countries, the IFS Deaton Review will span five years and look at inequalities in areas such as income, wealth, health, social mobility and political participation.

In a research paper accompanying the launch by IFS researchers Robert Joyce and Xiaowei Xu, figures show that “deaths of despair” in Britain have more than doubled among men since the early 1990s. This concept was coined by Deaton in an earlier study and refers to deaths from suicide and drug- and alcohol-related issues.
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In a reflection of the pressure on certain groups in society as inequality grows across Britain, the number of such deaths per 100,000 adults has risen from about 30 to 61 for men and from 15 to 26 for women over the period. Deaton believes these figures are an early warning sign of the UK developing characteristics of inequality similar to the US.

Deaton warned that rising inequality was not a uniform phenomenon in the UK, judging by mortality statistics. “One part we do know is that it seems to be geographically unequal,” Deaton said, referring to deaths from suicide, drugs and alcohol. “Blackpool seems to be a hotspot and the north east, but not very much in London. So it maybe that it’s geographical inequalities in health that are much more important here than in the US.”

On some measures, inequality in Britain has remained relatively steady over recent years, despite having rapidly accelerated in the 1980s.

Some economists point to the Gini coefficient – a sliding scale between 0% and 100% used by academics where a reading of 100% would indicate that one person received everything. The gauge has remained stable since the 1990s, although it rose slightly last year from 31.4% to 32.5%.

However, the headline measurement of inequality masks significant differences for households in modern Britain, which Deaton said were important to consider.

According to the IFS paper, the richest 1% in Britain have seen the share of household income they receive almost triple in the last four decades, rising from 3% in the 1970s to about 8%. Average chief executive pay at FTSE 100 firms has risen to 145 times that of the average worker, from 47 times as recently as 1998.

Earnings in the lowest-earning working households have barely risen since the mid-1990s, compared with greater increases for higher-income groups.

A spokesman for the Treasury said: “Our policies are highly redistributive – this year the lowest income households will receive over £4 in public spending for every £1 they pay in tax, while the highest income households will contribute over £5 in tax for every £1 they receive in public spending. Income inequality is lower now than it was in 2010.”

Another couple of decades and we'll be back to the middle ages ... with modern lords of our manors.
" You can’t really win " : 4 MILLION Britons in poverty despite having jobs.

Unemployment is at its lowest since the 70s but some workers struggle to make ends meet.

“ I’m a bit scatty with things like this,” Gemma admits when talking about her finances. It was not scattiness that meant she struggled to make ends meet when taking home £399.69 a month for working 18 hours a week as a cashier at Betfred.

Even with tax credits and child benefit topping up her meagre wages, it was a constant struggle to pay for the essentials and Gemma fell behind on her bills. She was already receiving letters, phone calls, texts and emails threatening legal action over previous unpaid bills, as well as £400 of benefit overpayments that had to be repaid.

Her son’s birthday was an added pressure but, she says with a weak smile : “ I always seem to pull it out of the bag somehow.” Having scraped through the month, she then put whatever she could afford – usually about £20 – towards her debts.

Data released on Tuesday is expected to show that unemployment remains at its lowest level since the mid-1970s but that means little to the 4 million workers in the UK like Gemma, who are living in poverty.

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, appeared to acknowledge the depth of this crisis last week, when he raised the possibility of increasing the minimum wage to 66% of median earnings.

Dave Innes, head of economics at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, says a rise in the minimum wage would be good news for low-paid workers but “ Really will not do that much to tackle the problem of in-work poverty ”.

It is the bruising combination of low pay, insecure hours, rising housing costs and cuts to benefits that has driven in-work poverty to its highest point in 20 years.

Innes says: “The labour market is trapping people in poverty, when it should be offering people a route out. It is very demoralising for people who are doing what society expects of them, going out to work to meet the essentials but still unable to do that.”

A 34-year-old single mother with a psychology degree, Gemma desperately wanted to work to build her confidence. She had been turned down by a number of employers who, she says, assumed her son would be her priority.

So she felt upbeat when she was offered the job at Betfred. “They made it sound like they would fit it around me, which they did the first couple of weeks; but then they started being awkward.”

Receiving her rota one week in advance, with shifts that never matched school hours, Gemma then scrambled to stitch together a patchwork of childcare, ringing around different breakfast and after school clubs to find somewhere that could take her son for a few crucial hours.

She was reluctant to lean on her mother, who has mental health problems, and felt guilty asking her aunt but had little choice when shifts finished long after her son’s bedtime.

Then the rota would be changed at the last minute to suit the betting shop, throwing her carefully worked-out plans into disarray. She says: “It was just so confusing. I was so stressed because I didn’t know where I was one week to the next.”

Some staff left young children home alone, just so they could cover their shifts. Gemma was not prepared to do that but says she got nowhere asking for more stable hours. “They didn’t care. I think it’s the wrong kind of industry to work in for understanding.”

Betfred says company policy is for rotas to be sent out two weeks in advance. Staff can request flexible working agreements after 26 weeks of employment.

Competitive pressures across retail and hospitality have driven employers to demand total flexibility from their staff, leading to zero-hours contracts, gig work and many unwilling part-time workers. Innes says this problem of underemployment needs to receive a lot more attention in policy debates.

Gemma enjoyed the social element of her job at Betfred, serving people who came in for their daily entertainment. “But then you do get some people that get angry, smash up the machines. It’s a bit daunting. You get told about all the different fraudsters and you have to watch out for dodgy people. I think they get robbed a lot.”

Working conditions were tough. Other staff worked longer shifts and it was not always easy to take a break, even to go to the toilet. “Because they were on their own, you’d have to chuck everyone out the shop, lock up, or just be desperate for the toilet the whole time.”

Ultimately, Gemma turned down too many shifts and had to quit. She says her overwhelming feeling was one of guilt. “Guilt to your employer and guilt to your child. It’s a constant cycle of guilt that happens when you’re trying to do something.

”Then if you haven’t found a job that’s suitable for hours, you feel guilt because you’re not working and everyone thinks you’re a scrounger. You can’t really win.”

Although Gemma is now out of work, Christians Against Poverty, a debt-counselling charity, is helping her get on top of her finances and she is about to start voluntary work at a community centre.

There are examples of companies trying to tackle the problem of in-work poverty. Pets at Home is offering part-time employees better opportunities for career progression; and EE lets staff choose if they want to work more hours.

It is an uphill struggle. Recent government figures show that the proportion of workers in poverty remains stubbornly high. Innes says: “What this shows is that this biggest problem of our times, as we see it, is not being tackled. In the past, we have seen big falls in pensioner poverty, big falls in child poverty. There are solutions out there to in-work poverty but at the moment they are not being pursued.”


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Half a million more children are living in poverty than in 2010.

Campaigners warn the situation is becoming the ‘new normal’ in parts of the country where more than half of youngsters are impoverished.

Half a million more children have become trapped in poverty since 2010, a report has revealed.

The poorest areas, notably in cities such as London, Blackburn and Manchester, are seeing rates rise fastest – and campaigners have warned the situation was becoming the “new normal” in parts of the UK.

Anna Feuchtwang of the End Child Poverty coalition, which published the report, said: “We know what causes child poverty and we know how to end it. We know that the income of less well-off families has been hit by severe real-terms cuts in benefits and by higher housing costs.”

The number of youngsters who fall below the poverty line rose to 4.1 million between 2010-11 and 2017-18, according to the research. More than half of youngsters are affected in some areas.

Around 5.1 million children will be living in poverty by 2022 as a result of cuts to benefits and in-work allowances, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has predicted.

The latest data, based on estimates by researchers from Loughborough University, show the London borough of Tower Hamlets has the highest rate, with 57 per cent of children living in poverty.

Newham, Hackney, Luton and Manchester also have among the highest levels of child poverty, all above 45 per cent.

Ms Feuchtwang said the government must “urgently” set a course of action to “free children from the grip of poverty”.

She said: “We know that work alone does not guarantee a route out of poverty, with two thirds of child poverty occurring in working families.

“Yet in many areas, growing up in poverty is not the exception, it’s the rule – with more children expected to get swept up in poverty in the coming years, with serious consequences for their life chances.”

The End Child Poverty coalition called on ministers to restore the link between benefits and inflation. Campaigners also asked officials to make up the loss in the real value in children’s benefits as a result of the four-year freeze and previous sub-inflation increases in benefit rates.

The coalition also urged ministers to reverse cuts and invest in children’s services such as mental health, education, childcare and social care, as well as end the two-child limit on child allowances in tax credits and universal credit.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said it was time for the government to “wake up to the growing poverty crisis in Britain”.

She added: “If we are to succeed as a country, we must invest in our children. But by 2021, our social security system will have shrunk by £36bn per year, with disastrous consequences for families across the UK.”

Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said the figures showed the gap between rich and poor was widening, and that this was “extremely frightening” not just for child health, but for the future population.

He said: “Child poverty doesn’t just determine whether a child can attend a school trip or has a safe and warm place to sleep. There is so much more to it. Left unaddressed, poverty can alter the trajectory of a child’s entire life.

“We know children living on or below the breadline are more likely to develop mental health issues, become overweight or obese, and die early. They are also more likely to misuse substances.”

Levels of child poverty in local areas were compiled by academics at the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University using a new method for estimating child poverty using a range of indicators.

The latest figures relate to relative rather than absolute poverty. Relative poverty means living in a household where income is less than 60 per cent of the national average (median).

A government spokesperson said: “This study is based on estimates rather than actual measurements of income. Children growing up in working households are five times less likely to be in relative poverty, which is why we are supporting families to improve their lives through work. And statistics show employment is at a joint record high, wages are outstripping inflation and income inequality and absolute poverty are lower than in 2010.

“But we recognise some families need more support. That is why we continue to spend £95bn a year on working-age benefits and provide free school meals to more than 1 million of the country’s most disadvantaged children to ensure every child has the best start in life.”
Government to overhaul measures of poverty by 2020.

New metric will include more families with children and people with disabilities.

The way poverty is officially measured and defined in the UK is set for a major overhaul under government proposals which would take into account savings, assets and daily living costs when determining whether a household or individual is poor.

The Department for Work and Pensions said it will publish experimental statistics in 2020 based on a new measure put forward by the independent cross-party Social Metrics Commission (SMC) with potential for the metric to be adopted as an official statistic.

The new metric does not record household income alone but for the first time accounts for a range of “inescapable costs” that reduce people’s spending power, and the positive impact of people’s liquid assets on alleviating immediate poverty.

The new measure comes after Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said last November that the UK government had inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies.

At the end of a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK, Alston said levels of child poverty were “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”, even though the UK is the world’s fifth-largest economy.

Philippa Stroud, chair of the Social Metric Commission and chief executive of the Legatum Institute, said: “I am delighted that the government is taking poverty measurement seriously. Without effective measures of poverty, we cannot hope to reduce the number of people who experience it or improve the lives of people who live in poverty.

“For too long, poverty measurement has been treated like a political football. This has allowed political and policy debate on poverty to focus on whether and how we should measure poverty, rather than the action needed to drive better outcomes for the most disadvantaged in our society.”

Under the new measure, the number of people living in poverty is 14.2 million, broadly similar to the old figure using only average income, but the type of households included changes radically.

Around 2.7 million people are no longer considered poor, mostly pensioners, while 2.6 million people are classed as living in poverty who were not previously – largely families with children and especially households with a disabled child or adult, whose living costs are much higher.

The inescapable costs include rent or mortgage payments, childcare and the extra costs of disability. Liquid assets include savings, stocks and shares. It also includes measures of poverty depth, poverty persistence and a range of lived experience indicators.

The SMC said using its measure, 8.4 million working-age adults, 4.5 million children and 1.4 million pension-age adults live in poverty.

Over half of those in poverty also live in persistent poverty. This means that more than one in ten (7.7 million) of the total UK population are in poverty and have been in poverty for at least two of the previous three years.

People with a disability are much more likely to be living in poverty. Nearly half of the 14.2 million people in poverty live in families with a disabled person (6.9 million people, equal to 48.3% of those in poverty).

Far fewer pensioners are living in poverty than previously thought, according to the SMC, with a significant fall in pensioner poverty over the last 15 years.

Poverty rates amongst pension-age adults have nearly halved since 2001, and have fallen to one in ten, a drop from 17% of the total population in poverty in 2001 to 11% in 2017. There are, however some pensioner groups still experiencing high levels of poverty. For example, the poverty rate for pensioners who do not own their own home is 34.2%.
Difficult choice ... this thread and / the main FOOD BANK one ... this article can stand alone on this one :

The rise of social supermarkets : " It's not about selling cheap food, but building strong communities."

Millions of Britons struggle to put food on the table. Are social supermarkets, where surplus stock from big retailers is discounted, the solution ?

Near the tills, in what looks, at first glance, like a standard convenience store, is a shelving unit crammed with goods, all bearing a familiar high street logo.

There are packs of flour and jars of pitted black olives, tins of mixed bean salad and boxes of mushroom soup sachets. Hanging from the front is a laminated sign. It reads: “20 for 20.” Below that it says: “20p for all Waitrose Essential.”

Gary Stott, the stocky Lancastrian responsible for this offering, picks up a tin and waves it at me. “Our customers do like a bit of Waitrose.” He points to the notice at the bottom of the sign that reads: “So that we can be fair with all our members please buy one item each.” People keep to it, Stott tells me. “All our members understand the rules.”

Both the membership model and low prices are what distinguish the Community Shop, housed in a low-slung building on a tidy housing estate in Athersley, to the north of Barnsley in South Yorkshire.

It is an example of a small but growing group of enterprises known as social supermarkets. If you meet the membership criteria, loosely based around the grinding struggle of low income and scarce resources, you are granted access to shelves of surplus food from mainstream retail outlets at major discounts.

There’s chicken liver and bacon paté from Sainsbury’s for 45p instead of £1.30, alongside Tesco own-brand sauces for 50p rather than £1 and loaves of Warburton’s finest for 20p, which could be a fifth of the usual price. There are around 750 households using this Community Shop, though as many as double that can go through in any one year.

“For those who have the responsibility of feeding a household, it can save on average £212 a month on shopping bills,” says Stott, who has worked in the voluntary sector for decades and who, in 2013, helped launch the first of four Community Shops.

The original, in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, is also believed to have been the first in the UK, though they have existed across the rest of Europe since the 1980s.

While the model varies from place to place, social supermarkets are distinct from food banks in that users pay for their groceries, albeit at large discounts. Whatever form it takes, the fact that they are spreading can be seen as a mark of the brutal impact of food costs on many families.

According to recent UN figures, 8.4 million people in the UK are food insecure and 5.6% of those aged over 15 have said it is a struggle to get enough food. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that dozens more of these social supermarkets are due to open across the UK over the next year.

Community Shop is a sister organisation to Company Shop, a business founded more than 40 years ago by Yorkshireman John Marren, which trades in surplus or unsaleable products from mainstream food producers: items with misprinted packaging the supermarkets can’t accept perhaps, or which don’t have enough shelf life to make it into mainstream retail.

Until the Company Shop came along, that surplus would either be sold for pennies on site to the firm’s employees or sent to landfill. Marren’s innovation was to purchase all of the companies’ surplus product, pool it in one place and sell it at a discount to employees of those companies. Company Shop now shifts 70m units of surplus food a year.

“We’d supported charities for a long time,” Marren tells me over a lunch made from surplus food at his headquarters in Barnsley. “Some of our food went to food banks. But the need was like a fire that was getting bigger and bigger. Nobody was trying to put the fire out.”

What he wanted to do, he says, was reduce the demand for charitable donations by creating an intervention that helped people before they reached crisis point. “I wanted to help people make a step change in their lives.”

Gary Stott, who had run a homelessness charity, came on board as a consultant for two weeks. That was seven years ago. Now many of Company Shop’s suppliers donate surplus that can either be sent direct to the Community Shop, or sold to members of the parent company, the profit from which is used to buy stock for the Community Shop. Company Shop provides all the logistics and back-office support for its charitable twin.

Talking to the customers at Athersley, there’s no doubt the shop helps. “I come in daily,” Jade tells me. “It’s low price and the people who work here make you feel welcome.” A couple are filling their basket with a mixture of breakfast cereals, bread and cheese. “I’ve been coming here for about three months,”

Michael says. “My mum told me about it.” He admits you can never be sure what will be there from one day to the next. Sometimes there are certain brands; sometimes there aren’t. “You just have to be flexible,” he says.

It would be easy to focus solely on stacks of cheap, mislabelled soups or shelves of chocolate cakes once destined for the Christmas market, but still in date and now sold at a sixth of the price. But there’s much more going on here. Any profit generated on this side of the building goes to fund the Community Hub on the other side. That houses a kitchen serving lunch for £1.50, as well as spaces for a range of mentoring, training and support schemes.

“In reality, the shop is the gateway,” Stott says. “Our vision isn’t to sell cheap food. It’s to build strong individuals and confident communities around food.”

In the Community Kitchen the group runs cookery classes, so members have the skills to cook from scratch. They have days where people make dishes from their own culture. “It’s a brilliant way for people to get to know each other,” Stott says. Members are trained to become community leaders, who then pass on skills in everything from managing a household budget, through launching micro-businesses to literacy. “We want to focus on what’s strong, not what’s wrong. You work with what you’ve got,” Stott says.

The real problem they are challenging, he says, is the narrative around “food poverty”, a term he detests. “Food poverty creates the idea that there’s just one thing that needs fixing. Is this enterprise about getting calories to poor people so they don’t die between now and next week? No, it really isn’t.”

I ask him whether playing with language can alter the reality. “Language can’t disguise poverty,” he says. “But it can create a different ground to grow things in.”

Over on the other side of the Pennines in Stockport, south of Manchester, there’s a different social supermarket model. There are four small food outlets called Your Local Pantry, each open for half a day a couple of times a week. They are run by Stockport Homes, which manages the council’s social housing.

“Stockport Homes recognised that welfare reforms, including the bedroom tax, were going to cause problems for many of their clients,” says Anna Jones, who was appointed food sharing officer in 2012 to devise a plan that might provide support. “We wanted something that would have a community impact and have an element of dignity for people using the service.”

The first one opened at Hanover Towers, in the Lancashire Hill area of Stockport, in 2013. All the food comes from Fareshare, the charity that redistributes surplus food from producers and retailers. Members pay £3.50 each time they want to shop, which goes to pay for the Fareshare deliveries.

For that they can take 10 items, split between three higher value products from the red-labelled shelves and seven from the blue shelves. The value of the food they get is worth many times more than the £3.50 fee. “Our pantries don’t claim to solve food poverty,” Jones says. “We’re a helping hand in tough times.” Around 100 households are members of each pantry at any one time.

At the pantry in the Bridgehall neighbourhood, a small shop unit tucked into a tight suburban parade, members wait their turn to browse shelves of soups and cereals, and freezers stocked with ready meals, including bags of oven-ready fried chicken from a well-known high street outlet. Any surplus money made is spent on fresh fruit and vegetables to supplement the Fareshare stock. Cat Gould-Vendyback, who is currently out of work, has been coming here for three years. “As a single person you can sustain yourself for a week from what’s here, as long as you’re not greedy,” she says. “It’s a way of boosting your economy if you’re careful.”

But as with the Community Shop, there is more going on in this space than just the filling of fridges and bellies. “Living on my own I’m very isolated, but I meet people here,” Cat says. “The volunteers who run it know me. This place kept me going when I lost my partner. I know I won’t be judged. The food is an added bonus.”

As with the Community Shop, staff can also refer members for classes and mentoring, which helps to get them into work and away from needing the pantry. It’s a model that is being rolled out across the country by the charity Church Action on Poverty, which has lottery funding and grants to franchise up to 55 of the pantries in the first year in deprived areas.

The British social supermarket model seems like a civilised and civilising solution to two problems: the mainstream supermarket supply chain produces surplus food that would otherwise go to waste, and there are those on low incomes who need cheap food. Yet it’s not without its critics.

In March, the Guardian published a letter signed by 58 leading academics and campaigners, who argued that the donation of surplus food by major retailers and producers merely burnished the reputations of big business, without dealing with the underlying issues of poverty. “Charitable food aid is a sticking plaster on a gaping wound of systemic inequality in our societies,” the letter said.

For the most part it referenced food banks. However, according to Dr Lopa Saxena of Coventry University, a signatory to the letter who last year co-authored the first major academic study of social supermarkets in Britain, many of the same issues apply. “Social supermarkets are a step up from food banks,” she says.

“But they still don’t address the issues of poverty. A form of austerity retail is being developed, based around an intermediary market in surplus food.” She argues that the supply is unreliable and “risks becoming a chronic part of the poverty economy.”

Martin Caraher, professor of food and health policy at City University, who also signed the letter, agrees. “Anything that helps people is good. But it’s a sticking plaster.” Professor Christina Holweg, of the Institute for Retailing and Marketing in Vienna, who coined the term “social supermarket” in a major study published in 2011, says the British model is deformed compared with those in the rest of Europe.

“In the standard continental model, shoppers have to go into mainstream supermarkets to complete their shop,” she says. “It’s a mixed model, whereas in the UK they are very separate.”

Stott agrees with these points. “We do not want to create a world where you get a different retail offer because of your postcode,” he says. “We certainly do not want to create an alternative retail subculture.” The aim, he says, is for people to stay members for six or 12 months “and then say thanks for everything, but I’m off now”.

The Community Shop only sets up in areas that have the highest deprivation. A little over three years ago it opened an outlet a few miles from my house in Lambeth, which, like so many London boroughs, is a patchwork of affluence and poverty.

It is located in rented council buildings behind the recycling depot in Norwood. Outside, there’s an urban farm growing fruit, vegetables and herbs to be used in the kitchen or handed out when there’s a glut. There’s a shipping container from which abandoned bicycles are sold cheaply after being fixed up, and another is used as a training space.

I spend a morning there, browsing the shelves of the shop, stocked with everything from 20p loaves of bread to upmarket Daylesford soups. I meet locals who came here needing help to feed their families and who stayed on as mentors.

There are dozens of languages spoken in Lambeth and here, in the Community Kitchen, is where they can meet to share stories over dishes from the countries where they grew up.

“This place isn’t just about food,” says Ann-Marie Donovan, who manages the operation. “It’s about people making positive changes.” Indeed it is. But in the world of the social supermarket, food is where it all starts.

If anything , a new local community within the local community.

This one based on resources ... a growing trend that really is spreading at local manor level.
UK's " Cruel and harmful policies " lack regard for child hunger, says NGO.

Damning Human Rights Watch report accuses the government of breaching its duty.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the UK government of breaching its international duty to keep people from hunger by pursuing “cruel and harmful polices” with no regard for the impact on children living in poverty.

Examining family poverty in Hull, Cambridgeshire and Oxford, it concluded that tens of thousands of families do not have enough to eat. And it revealed that schools in Oxford are the latest to have turned to food banks to feed their pupils.

In a damning 115-page report that echoes previous expert condemnation of the UK’s policies on food poverty, the NGO – better known for documenting abuses from Myanmar to Haiti – said that the government was breaching its obligations under human rights law to ensure people have enough food.

Volunteers and staff at schools in Oxford confirmed that they were now reliant on donations, saying that teachers were noticing pupils who were missing meals at home and needed to be fed.

HRW said that ministers had “largely ignored growing evidence of a stark deterioration in the standard of living for the country’s poorest residents, including skyrocketing food bank use, and multiple reports from school officials that many more children are arriving at school hungry and unable to concentrate”.

The report will provide further ammunition to those who say that the government is failing in its duty to the poorest. It comes before Wednesday’s release of the final report on the UK by Philip Alston, the United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty, who has already highlighted the same issues in his interim findings, following a two-week tour of the UK last November.

The report, which will appear on the eve of the European parliamentary elections, is likely to echo Alston’s warning last month that the political preoccupation with Brexit meant that issues like poverty are being ignored in a way that will leave the country “severely diminished”. Alston said: “You are really screwing yourselves royally for the future by producing a substandard workforce and children that are malnourished.”

The government dismissed the findings, saying that it was misleading to present them as representative of the whole country, and said it is helping parents back into work to reduce poverty and is ending the benefit freeze next year

“Employment is at a record high and children growing up in working households are five times less likely to be in relative poverty,” a government spokesperson said. “We spend £95bn a year on working-age benefits and we’re supporting over 1 million of the country’s most disadvantaged children through free school meals.”

Pupils at Orchard Meadow and Pegasus primaries schools in the Blackbird Leys area of Oxford are among those receiving leftover fruit, vegetables, bread and dried goods from supermarkets and wholesalers delivered by the Oxford Food Bank, which aims to reduce food waste.

It emerged last week that Sandwell Valley School in the West Midlands is using a food bank to deliver fresh produce to reduce the price of meals to pupils who might not otherwise afford them. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, also asked Theresa May at last week’s prime minister’s questions why a primary school in Great Yarmouth has set up its own food bank for hungry children.

Kartik Raj, the author of the HRW report, said growing hunger was “a troubling development in the world’s fifth largest economy”. He said: “Standing aside and relying on charities to pick up the pieces of its cruel and harmful policies is unacceptable. The UK government needs to take urgent and concerted action to ensure that its poorest residents aren’t forced to go hungry.”

Oxford Foodbank delivers to schools, community groups and homeless shelters and reuses a tonne of food a day that would otherwise have been dumped by wholesalers and retailers – including Marks and Spencer, Lidl and Waitrose – which donate it instead.

Chris Hearn, a retired firefighter and volunteer driver for the charity, said: “I think it is a shameful thing the state schools have to rely on charity to give their students plentiful and nutritious meals. It’s outrageous.”

At Orchard Meadow, dinner lady Thelma Trevis searched boxes of red peppers, mushrooms, bread, salad and a glut of beetroot for supplies.

“We have teachers coming up to us in the middle of the day and they say there is a child who hasn’t had breakfast, who hasn’t eaten since the previous evening,” she said. The cooks rely on the free produce to keep costs down and without the donations would not have enough vegetables, she said.

At Pegasus primary school, Rachel Wilding, whose job involves contacting pupils’ families, said the deliveries are used to feed children at breakfast and to try and teach parents how to cook better. Some is bagged up and offered to needy families to take home.

“We expect [the children] to go into the classroom and learn, but if you don’t have enough food in your stomach it is not not going to be a priority,” she said.

Another food drop was at the Peeple Centre, which helps families with children under five who are often referred by social services. Its workers bag up the food and take it to sessions with their users.

“People are hungry,” said Helen Stroudley, project manager for Peeple’s Oxfordshire deliveries. She cited high prices and the difficulty of keeping food if families are squeezed into temporary accommodation and lack fridge space.

Even working parents – including a mother and father who both work as nurses – need the food parcels they offer, she said.

The biggest taker was the O’Hanlon House homeless hostel in central Oxford where the chef makes 100 meals a day.
Northern Powerhouse’s health inequality misery is costing UK billions - Hannah Davies.

INEQUALITIES are on the rise. Not since the 1940s has there been such a gap between the poorest and richest in our society.

Now the Institute of Fiscal Studies 
has revealed that inequalities are becoming more extreme and has announced a five-year review to investigate the issue.

We in the North take the brunt of inequalities. No one would deny that inequalities exist across the UK but in the Northern Powerhouse they exist on a scale unseen in the rest of England.

The Treasury, the Department of Health and Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry cannot ignore this fact. When looking at how to deliver local Industrial Strategy, the Northern Powerhouse strategy refresh and the Spending Review, North/South inequalities must be taken into account.

Health is key to the dramatic and growing inequalities between North and South. We know there is a productivity gap between the North and South of England – what’s less known is that a third of that is because of health.

Our Health for Wealth report asked the question “If you invested in the poor health of the North and brought it up to the country’s average, what impact would that have on the UK economy?”

The answer was £13.2bn extra every year. Leading academics from the North’s top universities, including the University of York, found the North has a £4 productivity gap with the South of England, £1.20 of that is because of ill-health.

With a lot of ideas floating around about how to tackle the productivity crisis, these are solid figures which give politicians a clear roadmap.

The Northern Powerhouse needs to be more connected and it needs a skilled workforce but a healthier population is essential. The North’s physical and mental health are woefully behind that of the rest of the country.

This ill-health has a direct relationship to productivity and in many examples this relationship between health and productivity is unique to the North.

The UK’s productivity crisis is well documented. Nowhere is this more pronounced than the North where job growth has been less than one per cent compared to over 12 per cent in London.

The Health for Wealth report found increasing the proportion of people in good health in the North by 3.5 per cent would reduce the employment gap between the North and the rest of England by 10 per cent. These are figures the Government simply can’t afford to ignore.

Digging deeper into the reasons behind this are even more dramatic figures. If they experience a spell of ill-health, working people in the North are 39 per cent more likely to lose their job compared to their counterparts in the rest of England. If they get back in to work, their wages are 66 per cent lower than their counterparts elsewhere.

The researchers discovered
increasing the NHS budget by 10 per cent in the North will decrease economic inactivity rates by three per cent. Nowhere else in the country is there this direct link between NHS spend and productivity.

But acknowledgement and good intentions by Ministers only go
so far. We need to see a proportional increase in public health funding for the North. We need to improve labour market participations and job retention among people with a health condition
in the Northern Powerhouse and to increase funding in the region to be
spent on prevention services and health science research in the areas that need it most.

On a regional level, health and wellbeing boards, and NHS integrated care systems, should commission more health promotion, condition management and prevention services.

And there needs to be a joined-up approach with local enterprise partnerships and local authorities on scaling up public health programmes.

This is why the Northern Health Science Alliance is working together with Metro Mayors, Public Health England, Local Enterprise Partnerships and with Government to see where interventions are most effective.

But we need to see real money and real action taken now. Tackling the North-South health inequality problem is an effective, achievable intervention that can take place now and which will see very real benefits for the entirety of the country.

Hannah Davies is Head of Public Affairs at Northern Health Science.
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