Poverty is a problem seen close to home
There can be few of us unaware of the problems faced by millions of people around the world who find themselves living in abject poverty.
Our television screens are filled with heart-wrenching images of people for whom all hope seems to have gone — people forced out of the meagre shelters they call home by disaster and war, or their need to escape persecution or discrimination; people who have lost everything and for whom poverty is a way of life.
Tragically, these images have become so commonplace that they often fail to shock.
However, you may be shocked to learn that for some people the reality of living in poverty is happening much closer to home.
Figures just released by the End Child Poverty Coalition reveal the dreadful statistic that more than a quarter of children in Wansbeck are classed as living in poverty after housing costs are factored into their family incomes. That’s 4,768 children, or 27.93 per cent of children in our constituency.
Not for one moment is anyone saying that conditions for children in Great Britain are in any way comparable to the horrors of growing up in Aleppo or the dangers of having to face a hazardous sea crossing as their families search for a new life in Europe.
But it is still a sobering thought that families, perhaps living not far away from us, are struggling so badly.
Schools around the country are reporting that children are hungry when they arrive at the start of the day. Over the past year more than a million food parcels were handed out at food banks.
The Wansbeck Valley Food Bank reported recently that its 4,000th recipient had been supplied with emergency rations. Volunteers say that every day they provide 20 people with food parcels after they are referred to them by care professionals, doctors or social workers.
The charity relies heavily on the generosity of local people for its provisions, such as soup, vegetables, fruit, cereals, rice and tins of meat and fish, which can be left at centres in Morpeth, Ashington and Newbiggin. At this time of year the need for provisions is even more urgent, so please consider giving what you can spare. Information can be found at wansbeckvalleyfoodbank.org
It is also worth considering how the spectre of poverty in this country has grown.
Unemployment, costs rising at less than the rate of inflation, the Government’s freeze on child benefit payments, people working part-time or on zero hours, and cuts to in-work benefits and universal credit could all be pointed to as reasons why people are worse off.
Moving into work has not turned out to be a move out of poverty for many, and the cap on family benefit can only have made their situation more perilous. Tax credit cuts are dwarfing the rise in the minimum wage. It was reported that in a two-child family both parents would need to earn £9.55 an hour to reach the same living standards they enjoyed when the minimum wage was £6.50 an hour.
Sadly, it all adds up to a bleak picture for many people on low-incomes, many of whom work long hours to try to make end meets and to stop themselves and their children falling into the poverty trap.
In her first speech as Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to create a country that works for everyone and she acknowledged that for an average working class family life is much harder than many people realise.
I sincerely hope that she lives up to that pledge because that figure of 4,768 Wansbeck children living in poverty is 4,768 too many.