A councillor responsible for safeguarding youngsters has spoken of her fear for Sunderland’s looked-after children, as its numbers shoot up amidst Government cuts.
Coun Pat Smith, who is the portfolio holder for children and learning, called the 14% increase of children in care in just one year “a big worry”.
As of June 1, 591 young people were in the care of the council on Wearside, compared to 519 on the same date last year.
Coun Smith says she holds the Government responsible for more and more families losing their way in a desperate financial situation.
She said: “I think it is safe to say that it’s not rocket science when we see the numbers of people going into care.
“If benefits had not been cut this wouldn’t have happened.
“It puts the fear of God into me to see we have another five years of this.”
A Conservative peer sparked anger yesterday when she suggested the poor were going hungry because they “don’t know how to cook”.
Baroness Jenkin of Kennington was forced to apologise for the comment, made at the launch of a landmark study into the explosion in food bank use.
The gaffe came as the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) – criticised for benefit delays and harsh sanctions – appeared to snub the launch of the report, by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
And Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith came under fire for denying he had refused to meet the Trussell Trust, which runs most food banks, when it insisted he had.
At the Westminster event, Lady Jenkin, who served on the inquiry team, blamed hunger on, in part, a lack of knowledge about how to create cheap and nourishing meals.
“We have lost our cooking skills – poor people don’t know how to cook. I had a large bowl of porridge today, which cost 4p. A large bowl of sugary cereals will cost you 25p.”
Her comments immediately drew stinging criticism from across the region.
Councillor Peter Brookes, who helps run food banks in the Trimdon area of County Durham, said:
“It shows she hasn’t got a full understanding of the difficulties people who use food banks face. They don’t have the same choices as people like the Baroness to go out and buy fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Scheme coordinator, Margaret Brice said many food bank users are unable to cook due to the issues they face, adding: “These are people in a crisis.”
A spokesman for the Middlesbrough Trussell Trust Foodbank said:
“When people do not have any money it does not matter if they have 25p or 4p. They have no money.
“People at the point of crisis are not there because they do not know how to cook. If you have not got anything in the cupboard you cannot cook it.”
Later, Baroness Jenkin apologised, saying:
“I made a mistake. Obviously I was stupidly speaking unscripted.
“What I meant was, as a society, we have lost our ability to cook, or that no longer seems to be handed down in the way that it was in previously in previous generations.”
The row almost overshadowed a plea by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for £100,000 of Government cash to kick-start a new organisation to eliminate hunger in the UK by 2020.
The DWP had been asked to attend and respond on the report’s recommendations, but – unlike the major supermarkets and utility regulators – failed to do so.
A junior minister from another department went instead, while No.10 ruled out changes to the sudden removal of benefits from “sanctioned” claimants – sending them to food banks, critics say.
In the Commons, Mr Duncan Smith said:
“I do take this report seriously. We have met the Trussell Trust—I have never refused to meet it.”
But Alison Inglis-Jones, a trustee of the Trussell Trust, said the organisation felt “vindicated”, adding: “Iain Duncan Smith has refused to talk to us for 18 months.
“We simply get irate letters back accusing us of scaremongering, saying this situation isn’t happening.”
Source – Northern Echo, 08 Dec 2014