The recent film Ray and Liz, written and directed by photographer Richard Billingham, charts his experience of growing up in poverty and neglect in the West Midlands, during the 1980s.
It’s not an easy watch and a salutary reminder that high levels of disadvantage and very low incomes were with us the 1980s - and have taken a surge upwards again in recent years.
Figures released in late March, based on Department of Work and Pensions figures and analysed by the National Housing Federation, show a shocking rise in the number of UK children living in absolute poverty - up by 200,000 in a year to 3.7 million. A household is in absolute poverty if their income is below 60% of the 2010-11 median income, adjusted for inflation. There are some areas of Sussex – parts of Hastings, in particular – where household poverty stands at over 40% (twice the England average) and where rates of over-crowding and fuel poverty are also very high.
One group we recently funded is Hastings Area Community Trust who provides grants to local people in need (as well as accommodation to other local charities). They received a grant from our Sierra Gorda Fund to support the development of their Baby Pantry project. The Trust supports people in food poverty through The Pantry project and, for a small donation of £2.50, people in need have access to a selection of long life items and a free supply of fresh fruit, veg and bread. During opening hours, there is also a café. The Baby Pantry project will work with local health visitors to supply low income parents with nappies, feeding equipment, baby wipes and vouchers for baby formula. “The current aim is to avert immediate crisis and prevent babies being deprived of essential nutrition,” says chairman Peter Carcas. “Families will be offered help with budgeting and managing their affairs to enable them to support their children successfully.”
What the new poverty figures also show – which is a new phenomenon - is that 70% of children living in poverty were in working families.
"Working families are referred to us where, due to a crisis, they do not have the money to buy food", said Peter. “Irregular or low paid work mean budgeting is difficult and illness, for example, can mean that the expected income is not there. Universal Credit payments assume a regular income, which does not occur, so adjustments are made which can take time to happen. This means overpayments have to be refunded and underpayments are slow to materialise. We have been approached to open in an evening so as to be more accessible to working families but we already have three times the number of members than we originally planned for. Without more food donations and volunteers, particularly people who can drive, it is not possible”.
The Pantry is based at 4 Middle Street, Hastings (Tuesday and Friday, (12pm - 3pm). If you can help with food donations or to volunteer, contact Debby on 01424 444691 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Picture credit: Rob Baker Ashton