STARK extremes of poverty, debt and hunger felt by 27,000 families in Newcastle have been laid bare in a new report.
One in five mums miss meals so their children can eat, 16.5% of people rely on social security benefits and half of all children in Westgate, Walker, Byker and Elswick live in poverty.
The desperate portrait of urban life painted in Newcastle Council report ‘Making Ends Meet’ also reveals even affluent households earning over £60,000 a year face fresh difficulties as child benefit is cut.
Deputy leader of Newcastle Council Joyce McCarty said the report was the first time indicators of citywide hardship have been brought together in a single document. She said: “I was shocked to read its findings.
“Particularly parents going without food to feed their children and the rise of food banks, which traditionally, were only ever used in emergencies.”
“What we’re trying to do is pull together all the statistics in one document and recognise that the council can’t achieve things on their own, and we need to work with a range of partners because that’s the best use of resources.”
The report’s findings will be debated by city council leaders at a policy cabinet meeting on Wednesday, January 16, while a fresh analysis is given to debt problems blighting thousands.
In Newcastle 5,000 families have a shared debt of around £3m, and around 20,000 have contacted the council’s financial advice service.
The report outlines council hopes to tackle this by bringing together the Discretionary Housing Payments and Money Matters Teams to simplify monies owed to the local authority.
Coun McCarty also admitted Newcastle City Council’s own budget cuts of £100m will further exacerbate the difficulties families face following Central Government’s cut backs.
Changes through the Welfare Reform Act alone are estimated to have taken £83m from the city’s economy alone.
She said: “We know that some things we are doing as a city council will impact on the very same people, but unfortunately the Government have been disgracefully unfair on cities like Newcastle resulting in services having been cut.
“We don’t have a choice.
“We have got to set a balanced budget and we are going to have to make significant cuts.”
She said the council’s focus now would be on lobbying Central Government for a fairer deal.
“What we’re trying to do, because the budget is still under consultation is lobby them so that they change the criteria so that we are not cut quite so badly.
“Even if that doesn’t help us this year, in year one, it might be easier in years two or three of the budget.”
“We are lobbying Government, but at a local level we need to work more closely together, pooling resources and expertise so we can continue to help families despite having fewer resources of our own.
“Finding new ways of working is one of the things I hope we can get out of this meeting.”
Part of the work the council sets out for itself in the report is to increase the number of people receiving the ‘correct’ benefits following welfare reform.
Since 2009 benefits take-up across the city increased by over £7m to £19m – something the council is keen to replicate.
They also want to see continued success of their Prevention from Eviction Protocol, which they claim has reduced the number of families being evicted through debt by over 100 cases a year.
Report ‘Making Ends Meet’ is available to download from the city council’s website.
We know that some things we are doing as a city council will impact on the very same people