It’s time to tackle the cost of living crisis

Every fortnight at my constituency advice surgeries, I meet people who are struggling to make ends meet. Many people tell me how hard it is to get work or to get extra hours at work. Others tell me how they see prices going up but their wages being frozen.

So sadly, it wasn’t a huge surprise to me to receive a report from the End Child Poverty coalition that showed that nearly 1 in 4 children in Lewisham East are growing up in poverty. For these children, mums and dads often have to take really hard decisions. Do they put food on the table or pay the electricity bill? Can they afford the school trip or is the new pair of shoes more important?

One consequence of the squeeze that so many families are feeling is the rise in the number of local food banks.

Last Friday, members of Lewisham East Labour Party came together to provide a donation to the local branch of the Trussell Trust. Volunteers from the food bank came to accept the donation and told us more about the extent of the problem, which is worryingly widespread and growing.

The hardship that many families are facing is a recurring topic at Prime Minister’s Questions. Yet despite this, David Cameron, with his Liberal Democrat supporters is about to make things a whole lot worse.

This April, at the same time as the Government is introducing a tax cut for millionaires, hundreds of thousands of people will be hit by the Government’s “bedroom tax”. Last week, along with other Labour MPs I voted against this in the House of Commons. These changes will affect those who currently receive housing benefit (many of whom will be in work), who live in a home rented from either the council or a housing association and who are deemed by the Government to have a “spare room”.

These are the people who are already suffering from the economic mistakes of others and can least afford another shock to their cost of living.

On average, people deemed to have one “spare room” will lose £14 per week. 63% of those affected are disabled; people who need a bit of extra space, perhaps for someone to stay over when things get difficult. Families of service personnel will also be affected as will foster carers and those struggling with the effects of a family breakdown.

The Government claim that this tax will encourage people to move to smaller properties but the simple reality in places like Lewisham is that the properties don’t exist for people to move to.

Instead of making the situation worse for those who already struggling, the Government should be addressing the fundamental problems that are causing hardship in the first place. My fear is that their latest policy is simply going to plunge more people into poverty, meaning that our local food banks are probably here to stay.

This article was originally written for the South London Press (published 8th March 2013)

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