Column: tackling poverty

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 23rd November:

With the sugar and firework-fuelled celebrations of Halloween and Bonfire Night over, we move on to a particularly exciting part of the year for many.

But as we reach winter and the temperatures drop, there are some in our community for whom this festive season isn’t quite as welcome.

The long, cold nights present a real difficulty for those struggling to make ends meet, forced to choose between heating and eating.

Because after an exceptional decline under the last Labour government, the rise of people living in poverty since 2010 is unprecedented.

Nowhere is this more stark than in the case of child poverty.

Here in Barnsley, 6000 children – nearly a third – are growing up in poverty, as our community bears the brunt of nearly a decade of cuts.

And poorly insulated, low quality and energy inefficient housing along with spiralling energy costs and stagnating wages have left up to four million people up and down the country living in fuel poverty – including nearly 4400 households in Barnsley East.

The causes of this scourge are many.

A lack of affordable housing, stagnating wages, precarious and low paid work without long-term security, rising rents, cuts to benefits, and the roll-out of the Universal Credit system which has pushed many people into desperation.

Add in the unprecedented financial strain placed on local authorities like our own through cuts, the safety net many would usually depend on to help get them back on track has been slashed.

Poverty is the true face of nearly a decade-long obsession with austerity by this Government.

And as the temperature gets colder, there will be too many people here in Barnsley for whom the choice between heating their home and putting food on their plates is a stark reality.

It’s about time this Government took action to urgently address this national scandal by tackling the root causes of poverty, and immediately set about rebuilding the vital safety nets that help out the most vulnerable people in our community when they need it most.