Lancaster network’s plea to government amid growing cost of living fears
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It comes amid fears that almost two thirds of local charities won't be able to meet the increased demand for their services over the coming year.
The Lancaster District Food Justice Partnership released the joint statement signed by many of its core members - including Lancaster City Council, Lancashire County Council, Morecambe Bay Foodbank, Citizens Advice North Lancashire, The Olive Branch, Eggcup, Morecambe Bay Poverty Truth Commission, Lancaster University Faculty of Health & Medicine, Lancaster District CVS and Stanleys Community Centre.
They want to see urgent changes made at a national level to support those in need.
"Like so many other places, in the Lancaster district there's a large divide between our most affluent residents and those who are living in deep poverty," the statement says.
"Our partnership worries that, if this crisis isn't resolved, many of our friends and neighbours will be forced into desperate situations.
"We're worried that those who have until now been able to make ends meet will be pushed into poverty.
"We're worried that those who are already finding things difficult will face even deeper hardship, where their income isn’t enough to meet their basic needs in life. We can already see it happening.
"Without immediate action, our district will feel the impact of this crisis for many years to come.
The partnership said that Citizens Advice offices across Lancashire have seen many cases where people on low incomes can't afford the basics.
Foodbanks and food clubs are working "flat out" to meet a huge increase in need for their services, they said, while charities – organisations that provide food, advice, mental health services, warm spaces, and a compassionate response to all kinds of need – are at their limits.
A recent survey carried out by Lancaster District CVS revealed that 63% of local charities expect they won't be able to meet the increased demand for their services over the coming year.
They're still dealing with the consequences of the Covid pandemic, and are now having to bear even more as the backlogs in public services force people to turn to charity instead.
"People should be able to thrive and live with dignity, not be forced to struggle every day to just exist," the partnership statement continues.
"Our charities should be able to help people reach their full potential. Instead, we are helping people find enough money to simply put food on the table.
"We know there are better solutions. As local organisations, we're committed to working with decision makers to discuss a way forward that meets the needs of our communities.
"We want to work together, to do everything we can to support our residents. But we don't have the power to stop this crisis from happening.
"Our national government does, and we're calling on them to work with us and act to ensure that everyone has enough money to afford the essentials.
"We're calling for strong support systems that lift us out of hardship, rather than plunging us deeper into poverty. That means ensuring that financial support reflects the true cost of living, and benefits are brought in line with inflation now. Many people cannot wait until April."
What the partnership wants to see
*Deductions for debt should not exceed 5% of benefits;
*Claimants should be individuals, not couples;
*The two-child limit and benefits cap should be removed;
*The local housing allowance should be paid up to the median rent in any given area;
*The under 25s rate should be abolished and one rate paid to all adults;
*It should be easier and faster for disabled or unwell people to get the help they need;
*The 5-week wait for money should end, and money should be awarded as a grant, not a loan to be paid back when benefits are eventually paid.
*Wages should be raised in line with inflation;
*The mandatory minimum wage should be increased to reflect the true cost of living;
*Changes should be made to the UK’s tax system so that large companies, and individuals with the greatest wealth, pay a fairer percentage of tax;
*Pilot schemes for providing Universal Basic Income should be run among the UBI Lab Network of Local Authorities – of which the Lancaster district is a member.
"These measures will go a step further towards creating a more fair and just society in the UK in which everyone will be able to live to their fullest potential, and fewer people will have to rely on charity," the partnership statement says.
"Poverty is not a failure. It only takes one thing to push someone into poverty. That could be a serious illness or death in the family. It could be redundancy, or divorce. Nobody can control whether or not these things happen to them. They certainly shouldn't be punished for it.
"With the current system, once someone is in poverty, it can be very hard to escape, and for those suffering ill health, almost impossible.
"Our social structure should be there to help people lift themselves up out of difficult circumstances, not just because that's what's fair, but because everyone has so much potential.
"Poverty is a waste of potential. Every single person has skills and talents that our society and economy will benefit hugely from if everyone is given the chance to shine.
"This partnership believes that we have to put decency at the heart of everything we do. We believe policy must be shaped by those who've experienced poverty and hardship.
"A social security system designed by these people would look very different to the system we have in place today. We're confident it would allow people to thrive, rather than just get by."