Yet again we have a budget before us which avoids the key issues and challenges that are facing Breckland residents, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet, including residents in my ward of Thetford Boudica.
UK inflation is rising – driven higher by rising prices for food, furniture, clothing and housing costs – all furthering the country’s cost of living crisis.
The COVID crisis and economic impact, pushed many families into hardship and exposed the severity of UK’s food poverty problem. The UK’s rate of food poverty is among the worst in Europe. If you want to eliminate hunger, everybody needs to be involved.
Reliance on food banks has soared during this pandemic sparking concerns that millions will be forced to go hungry. People are classed as living in ‘food poverty’ if they don’t have enough money to buy sufficient nutritious food. Nearly 6 million adults and 1.7 million children were struggling to get enough food between September 2020 and February 2021 according to a report from the Environment Food and Rural Affairs committee. Sustain UK said 8.4 million people in the UK, the 5th richest country on the planet, were living in food poverty. This is not the only issue. Hygiene Poverty is not being able to afford many of the everyday hygiene and personal grooming products that most of us take for granted. The reality of a low income is that is restricts people’s options leaving them caught between being able to heat their homes or pay the rent, eat or be clean. And then there is Fuel Poverty, an issue that is rapidly increasing, often defined as the situation in which individuals or households are not able to adequately heat their homes or meet other required energy services at affordable costs. This affects a lot of elderly residents and families who are in the poverty trap. Of course Poverty is not natural, it’s man made it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of other human beings. Overcoming food poverty is not a gesture of charity, it is the protection of a fundamental human right. The right to dignity and a decent life.
This latest increase proposed in Council Tax will no doubt be unwelcome news for many residents particularly those residents who are already struggling to make ends meet.
A few weeks ago whilst I was donating some hygiene products to the Burrell Shop at the Charles Burrell Centre, a lady entered the shop in tears, I heard how she had no money to buy food and no heating to heat her home. Increasingly, people are presenting to such organisations at crisis point. The Foodbank, now located on the other side of town, some 3 ½ miles away, and with very limited opening hours, was of no comfort for her. Fortunately, the staff and volunteers at the Burrell Shop were able to support her with a crisis pack and emergency fuel voucher – but it’s a sticking plaster and with 300+ members of the shop, the demand is going to outstrip the supply.
With increasing energy costs, food bills and increasing council tax, I fear this situation that I witnessed, is going to become a more common occurrence.
As a Council we must be doing more to support our most vulnerable residents. Food poverty, Hygiene poverty and Fuel Poverty are real issues. This budget does not address these challenges. I support the amendment proposed so that we provide the immediate help that is needed whilst we work to implement the longer-term changes that are necessary.