South Tyneside Council has thrown its weight behind a campaign aimed at reforming the benefits system so that people do not have to miss out on the essentials of life.
Research by the Trussell Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation discovered that 90 per cent of low-income households on Universal Credit are going without the basic essentials.
Allan and Susan Blackburn from Bishop Ramsey Court in South Shields say they have been ‘cast adrift’ and for the first time in their lives are having to rely on food banks.
Allan, who recently retired from his job as a baker, has to survive on a small private pension as his wife, who is just ten months younger, is still in work. Because of this, they are classed as a ‘working-age’ couple, meaning that means-tested benefits such as Pension Credit are not available to them. Since retiring, he has also lost his entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance, meaning their overall income has dropped significantly.
Susan added: “We are living under the poverty line. We are having to use the food bank for the first time in our lives and when we have worked all our lives, that’s just not fair.”
Allan added: “After paying all our bills, we are left with just £100 a week for the two of us to live on.
“We won’t be putting the heating on over the Winter. We’ll just use hot water bottles and a blanket.
“It feels very much like we have just fallen through the cracks and I’m sure we’re not the only ones”
Brian Thomas, Chief Executive of the Hospitality and Hope food bank, said that while the benefits system was in need of reform, there was also a need for higher salaries as more than 40 per cent of those using the food bank are in employment.
Councillor Paul Dean, Lead Member for the Voluntary Sector, Partnerships and Equalities, said: “We are doing as much as we can to support people – including offering financial help to food banks which we know play a hugely valuable role in the lives of increasing numbers of people.
“We continue to work in partnership with organisations across the Borough to support our residents and help them become financially secure. However, there is only so much we can do which is why we feel Government should step up to the plate and do more to tackle poverty.”
Councillor Ruth Berkley, Lead Member for Adults, Health and Independence, said: “Poverty brings with it huge emotional stress and anxiety which, in turn, only adds to the financial burden of the NHS and social care. It’s vitally important that people know where to turn to for help and access support when they need it.”
South Tyneside’s Welfare Support Team offers a free, confidential welfare benefits and debt advice service to help residents navigate the benefits system to ensure they are receiving the help they are entitled to. The team also helps people recover benefits at appeal which have been stopped by the Department of Work and Pensions. Last year more than £4.6milllion was recovered in unclaimed benefits.
The team offers face-to-face, telephone or home visits appointments. To contact the team, call 0191 424 6040 or email email@example.com
For information on other cost of living support available, including on food, energy bills and school uniforms, go to www.southtyneside.gov.uk/costofliving