Single mother breaks down in tears after asking for help
The number of people needing help from food banks in part of Merseyside has soared in recent weeks amid a cost of living crisis.
But this region, one of the most deprived and hardest hit by budget cuts in the country, was deemed unworthy of investment in the first round of the government’s £4.8billion leveling fund.
A single mother recently broke down in tears seeking help from a Knowsley food bank as she struggled to feed her child while paying for childcare.
READ MORE: A disabled pensioner and his son went without heat or light for a week
Knowsley Foodbank director Toni Bell told ECHO: “People often think that people who want to help in the food bank are people who may not be helping themselves, or spending their money for things they shouldn’t, like alcohol or smoking or drugs.
“But this lady was working full-time, her partner had just left, and she couldn’t afford to keep her child in day care and feed him with what was coming to him on a full-time salary.
“You get calls like that every day, and it’s becoming more and more regular that people are struggling people who are working or have never been in that position before.
“There are people who lost their jobs to covid and couldn’t get them back. There are so many stories you could tell about why people are in this position.
“But I guess the most striking thing is, you know, these energy prices are really, really hitting people.”
Knowsley Foodbank has seen an “unprecedented rise” in the number of people seeking help in 2020/21, distributing food worth nearly 100% more than the previous year.
Before the pandemic, the food bank predicted it would feed 10,000 people in 2020/21.
Instead, they fed 77,000 people.
Donna Martin is Senior Administrator of The Big Help Project, which runs the Knowsley Foodbank and also helps people get education and training, find jobs and navigate the benefits system.
She said: “It’s outrageous that we’re one of the best economies in the world and there are people going to bed hungry.
“We won’t stop until that’s the case, and as far as we’re concerned, one person who goes to bed hungry is one too many.
“That’s why we will never stop until this is resolved.
“Any action taken by a government to really, really address this and tackle it head-on will be welcome.
“We welcome this approach, and will always liaise and engage in discussion with our leaders to achieve this goal.
“A government is there to have the best interests of the people at heart, and sometimes there can be unintended consequences of policies, which will not be considered by people who come from different backgrounds, but will greatly affect those who are at the other end of the social scale.
Ten years of cuts to welfare and council budgets have exacerbated existing inequalities in Britain.
Knowsley Council had to cut £100million from its budget in the decade since the Conservative Party returned to government under David Cameron in 2010.
Despite being one of the poorest areas in the country, Knowsley Council has lost nearly half of its government funding, the council said.
The equivalent of £485 per person is more than double the national average.
Speaking in November 2019 as the council sought to balance its budget, council leader Cllr Graham Morgan said: “Very difficult decisions have been made over the past few years.
“£100m of our budget has been cut. Just imagine where we would be if we had a level playing field with our funding.”
Budget cuts have a real impact on people’s lives – less money, poorer health and fewer opportunities for education and job training which can lead to better paying jobs to pay for better beds, food healthier and less financial stress.
A few blocks from Tower Hill in Kirkby form the 5th most deprived area in England in terms of income. It was 17th out of 32,844 areas in the 2010 Multiple Deprivation Index.
Another area of Kirkby is the 48th most deprived in terms of education, skills and training, down from 217th in 2010.
Stockbridge Village is the 29th worst-off employment area in England, down from 30th over a decade ago.
On a similar trend, Downtown Huyton is the 237th most deprived in terms of health and disability deprivation, a dramatic change from 645th in 2010.
Donna told ECHO: “We’ve had a welfare state in one form or another for just over 100 years.
“We had the Beveridge report during the Second World War, to slaughter the five giants, and yet here we are in 2022 with the food banks.”
She added: “Whatever government is in place – be it Conservative, Labour, Liberal, coalition – we don’t really care what political color of leaders we have.
“What matters to us is that they think of the citizens and help the citizens to recover ground, in terms of health, economy, opportunities, equality, social mobility, in particular in the fields who were already on the back foot to start.”
Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has announced a £4.8bn fund as part of its leveling scheme to help tackle regional inequality.
The fund is used to invest “in infrastructure that improves everyday life”, which includes upgrading local transport, investing in cultural and heritage assets and modernizing
Local authority areas have been separated into three priority groups, with Knowsley placed in the top tier along with Richmondshire, which forms the bulk of Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s constituency.
In the first round of funding, £1.7billion was allocated, but Knowsley Council’s £20million bid to regenerate Huyton town center was rejected in the first round of allocation last October, which elected officials described as “shameless”.
Cllr Tony Brennan, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Economic Development, said: “I am extremely disappointed with the Government’s decision not to support Council’s development plans for Huyton Village Centre.
“What makes the situation worse is that 30% of successful finance offers were in priority 2 and even priority 3 areas. Knowsley was a priority 1 area – so we asked the government to provide us with information on the reasons why our offer was not successful was in a priority area and the results of our program exceeded the criteria of the fund.
“The Government has previously ignored Knowsley’s need for regeneration funding through its Future High Streets Fund and Towns Fund and we can now add the Leveling Up Fund to that list.”
Central Bedfordshire Council, part of Priority Group 3, has secured £6.8million from the Leveling Up Fund to improve a roundabout in Clophill, an area of Secretary of State Nadine Dorries’ constituency and the one of the least deprived regions of the country.
Forest of Dean, an area of Gloucestershire represented by former Chief Government Whip, Tory MP Mark Harper, has secured £20million to improve leisure and sport facilities and education opportunities, and to develop the local economy.
Knowsley’s proposal would have seen funding support his 10-year plan for Huyton Village Centre, which includes the development of a commercial district, with a hotel, office, residential center and co-working center being part of the proposals.
The demolition of a multi-storey car park on Derby Road is set to be replaced by a “leisure-oriented mixed-use development” to provide spaces for community events and “for people and families to socialize and play”; and a station entrance gate to create a “better feeling of arriving in Huyton” is also part of their proposals.
While other areas are getting injections of cash, more deprived areas like Knowsley are struggling, begging for support after years of cuts and a pandemic that has pushed those in precarious work and stagnant wages closer to the edge, if not completely.
The scrapping of the £20 Universal Credit hike, a National Insurance hike and the cost of living crisis are fueling an already dire situation for many.
Meanwhile, people working on the ground in disadvantaged communities are filling gaps they believe should never exist.
Knowsley Foodbank director Toni Bell said: “What we have seen is a change in the number of people who need to use our services due to rising energy prices and the decline in universal credit.
“It makes a huge difference to people who need to use our services. It’s the difference between being able to shop and not being able to shop.
“You probably hear everywhere about choosing between warming up and eating, but it really is.
“The number of people over the last couple of months or so just went up again, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping.”