Poverty is a crippling reality in our country, our county and our city. It is time we took a stand against such horrors that can just as easily turn upon us through illness, redundancy, retirement or indeed, being stuck in the poverty gap with no means of escape. It is time we pulled people out of the abyss.
Poverty defines us, it eats up our happiness and devours our pride, swallowing them whole. Leaving behind a rumbling stomach, a tear-stained face, fear-induced insomnia and a gaunt, hollow expression that tells not a thousand words, but one – ‘help’.
This week the government have yet again buried their heads in the sand when it comes to the atrocities their people are facing. They do not sit in the Jobcentres watching advisors helplessly explain that there’s nothing else they can do, the paperwork will take at least two weeks, have you tried looking for a job? They do not listen to the phone calls made to the Department of Work and Pensions as a mother begs the woman on the end of the phone to do something, anything that will mean she can feed her children.
I have been that mother. I have been on income support with small children, and had little hope of finding any work that could fit around my eldest with school hours or made enough to cover childcare for my youngest. I tried, oh how I tried.
There was an issue with my income support benefit. It stopped. I had to fill in endless forms and return them to no man’s land. I rang their helpline to ask for a crisis loan. They no longer exist. Is there anything else? A referral to contact my local county council which was the Lincolnshire Community Assistance Scheme.
The LCAS is the jewel in this county’s crown when it comes to public services, they are incredibly helpful and do not make a claimant jump through hoops to receive help. When I once received help from this source, I was told by a member of staff I could have applied for a short-term benefit advance, but apparently staff on the Jobcentre phones “rarely mention it”. I applied and spent 20 minutes being asked why I needed a short-term loan, sat on my doorstep to get a signal from a half-broken mobile phone holding back the tears of despair as I worry where the kid’s next meal will come from.
The other gems come in the form of Lincolnshire’s food banks. Lincoln Community larder have been working tirelessly to help those in need since 1989. Tina James, a trustee of the LCL told me that “there has been a steady rise of clients for the larder over the past five years, but it has jumped up dramatically in the last few months. We are giving food parcels to between 60-90 people a week. We expect with the rise of gas prices there will be a spike in people needing our help over the winter months. It’s an unfortunate fact that for many, they have to decide whether to keep warm or eat.”
Like other food bank charities, the city’s community larder echoed the feelings that have been swept across national news this week: “Unemployment and the capping of benefits is a major reason we see people in here. Not to mention the growing issue of sanctions being placed on people’s benefits for seemingly no reason, lasting for weeks. The government have said more people are using food banks because there are more of them. I suppose you can’t argue that in a way, but we have been open since ’89 and we’re getting busier week by week.”
Indeed it would seem that the rationale of ‘supply and demand’ has gone over central government’s heads.
Hearing people (whether it be politicians, writers, or simply some form of public speaker) on the news, on Twitter and on the radio telling us how most people suffering with poverty are simply work shy, bad with financial planning, or from a broken home is something my ears still cannot comprehend.
These people have rarely laid in bed at night in total, paralysing fear of what they will do the next day. They have never felt the repeated blows to the chest as there is another delay on their tax credits, their job is scrapping contracted hours so they have no minimum a week, the rent has just gone up and they can’t possibly afford to go anywhere else, the school trip coming up that cost’s £50, knowing everyone else’s child will be going.
Understanding breeds empathy, and empathy is the best resource we have as human beings.
If you would like to help those in need, please see the Community Larder website for details of where to drop off donations and what they’re in need of, or call 01522 569291 / 07914 655 460. This week has seen the harvest festival, many schools have donated to the LCL and other food bank’s collectively, why not get your work place involved in their own collection?