British government

National scandal, local need: why the Budget failed those who needed help the most

In response to the Chancellor’s Budget earlier this week, the Trussell Trust, which supports the UK’s network of food banks, said

“Today’s Budget has failed to give security to families on the lowest incomes by refusing to extend the Universal Credit uplift for the full, difficult year ahead … We know removing the uplift [in September] could drive more than one million people to food banks and many more people are expected to need Universal Credit as unemployment rises.

“This isn’t right. We know this can change. We and our partners are urgently calling on the Chancellor to re-think and extend the uplift to 12 months at the very least, preventing people up and down the country from being swept into poverty in the wake of the pandemic.

“It’s time to build a better future together, taking action to create a stronger, more just society where everyone can afford the basics.”

The scale of need in Elmbridge is growing – and it is a need that is often unseen, and unexpected, in a Borough that frequently features as one of the most desirable places to live in the UK. As Kirsty Hewens describes in her excellent recent blog on her role as a volunteer at the Walton and Hersham food bank, demand for support has risen dramatically since the start of the pandemic with people from all walks of life, many of whom who would never have expected they would find themselves needing Food Bank parcels, now coming through their doors.

Across Surrey, the Trussell Trust reports a 122% increase in food bank usage between April to November last year while two in five emergency food supplies have been for children (Surrey Statement of Accounts 2019-2020) The pandemic has created an economic crisis in the County – a crisis that the Chancellor’s Budget decision today will fail to alleviate. Universal Credit claims across Surrey have increased by 160% between April-November 2020 (Surrey Live), with some areas in Elmbridge hit disproportionately harder: claimant numbers in Walton North and Molesey Heath have risen by 3.1% compared to 1.8% average in S

We must of course pay tribute to our wonderful local food banks, their dedicated teams of volunteers, and the network of community campaigners and individuals who run food collection points to keep their shelves stocked and who respond so promptly to urgent appeals for donations.  But the very fact of their existence, and the increasingly vital role they play supporting our neighbours in need, is a damning indictment of the past decade of Conservative policies that have championed austerity over compassion, failed to understand the impacts of poverty on life chances and further widened inequalities in this country. Let’s not forget that our own local MP, Dominic Raab – now ever-so keen to use our local food banks for regular constituency photo opportunities – caused a furore in 2017 by saying that “the typical user of a food bank is not someone who’s languishing in poverty, it’s someone who has a cash flow problem episodically.”

What the Public Accounts Committee called the “astonishing” failure by the government not to prepare for the economic impact of the pandemic has widened this inequality still further.

And Surrey County Council? Well, even at the most basic level, its support for its residents in the last year has also been shamefully lacking. For example, in its own survey last autumn, 61% of respondents who needed support with employment benefits and 67% of those looking for support with employment said that they couldn’t find that information. (Surrey I data set, Nov 2020)

The Trussell Trust is spot-on in its post-Budget assessment. “It’s time to build a better future together, taking action to create a stronger, more just society where everyone can afford the basics.” The Conservatives are incapable of delivering these aims. We need a fresh start. It’s time to care about the poverty that exists on our doorsteps. It’s time to care about how our pandemic recovery plan is going to help those most in need. It’s time to care in Surrey and in Elmbridge.