Thousands of Tyneside’s most vulnerable families will go hungry when a voucher support scheme is scrapped because of austerity cuts, leaders have warned.
A scheme which sees supermarket vouchers given to 2000 families in Newcastle to help feed their children over the school holidays has been axed as the Government slash £40m from the city council’s annual budget.
Under Newcastle City Council’s Crisis Support Scheme, families with children aged five and six, who have had their housing benefit reduced by the bedroom tax and are paying council tax for the first time, received Asda vouchers to help feed their youngsters during the Easter, Christmas and Summer school holidays.
But the council say they are forced to slash the service as the Government roll out their next round of cuts.
Leaders warned that cutting the benefit would lead to an increase in the number of people turning to foodbanks for emergency food parcels.
The announcement comes shortly after a teacher made claims some of his pupils returned to school after holidays “visibly thinner”.
Simon Kennedy, from teacher’s union NASUWT, said:
“It’s easy to point the finger at Newcastle City Council and say it’s their fault but this is the coalition government’s fault.
“This Government are hitting the most vulnerable and least well off families. I don’t think we can blame the council. The reality is when you get millions cut from your budget you have to cut it from somewhere.
“On May 7 people will be given the chance to vote and these are the sort of things people will take into consideration.
“We know people are going hungry and it’s not just over the holidays, it’s week in week out. We know that parents are missing meals to feed their kids.”
In April 2013 the Government abolished the Social Fund and asked local authorities to set up replacement schemes for Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants and the council set up the Crisis Support Scheme.
The funding falls under three areas and supports people in crisis, disaster or emergency, provides council tax assistance and did provide meals vouchers to schoolchildren in the holidays before it was cut.
In 2013/14 the council spent £214,000 to spend on the crisis support fund, and a further £173,000 in 2014/15. It will spend £116,000 in 2015/16, which includes a £50,000 overspend from the previous year.
In order to manage the reductions the council said they had no choice but to slash the voucher scheme.
This week letters went out to the affected families as they received their final set of vouchers over the Easter holidays.
Deputy leader of the council Joyce McCarty said:
“We are really disappointed this has been left to the local authority to fund.
“The Government have dumped the austerity cuts with local authorities who can’t afford to pick up the pieces and it’s the least well off in the community that are suffering.”
In Easter 2014 families with one child were awarded a £10 voucher, while families with more than one child were given £20.
A further £40 was handed to families with one child in the summer and an extra £60 to families with more than one child.
And at Christmas 2014 the vouchers were increased to £40 with families with one child and £60 for families with more than one child.
Ms McCarty added:
“It will add to the growing problem. It’s the same families who are struggling, it’s those families having to pay the bedroom tax and it’s things like this that tips people over the edge.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government said they would be unable to offer comment in the run up to the general election.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Apr 2015
Teachers are being forced to bring food into school to feed hungry children, a North East union leader has warned.
Simon Kennedy, regional organiser of the teaching union NASUWT, said school-funded breakfast clubs and teachers bringing food into work was a “sad situation” for the fourth richest country in the world.
However, the Conservative Party said the number of children living in poverty in England and Wales has fallen by 300,000 during the party’s term in office.
Speaking after the NASUWT held its annual conference in Cardiff at the weekend, Mr Kennedy said child poverty has become a growing problem.
“Kids are coming into school hungry and that is affecting their educational attainment,” he said.
“Teachers are bringing food into work because these children would sometimes not otherwise eat.
“Schools are also dipping into their budgets to pay for breakfast clubs which were originally set up to encourage healthy eating among children.
“So many parents in the North East are relying on , especially in Newcastle which has the busiest foodbank in the country.
“Whichever government comes in needs to increase the amount of investment in education. But a basic part of our society should be to ensure that our children are fed. Children of today should not be left to go hungry.”
Teachers at the conference also raised the problem of excessive workload, which they say is not only damaging their mental health, but also driving talented teachers out of the profession.
Nearly 90% of teachers at the conference cited excessive workload as the greatest concern they have about their job.
Mr Kennedy said: “Many teachers work every evening and every weekend and they’re not being paid for it.
“There is this endless drive to improve and what’s best for the child and the teacher has gone out of the window.
“School management is being forced to focus more on the league tables and the next Ofsted inspection rather than the children’s needs.
“Increased workloads, coupled with a cut in pay for teachers, has led to many in the profession leaving work or suffering from mental health problems.
“Media coverage would have you think teachers are failing our young people in some way, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Meanwhile, teachers have backed calls for a ballot on strike action over shortfalls to school funding.
The ballot motion was backed at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference in Harrogate, where members heard claims that funding shortages would threaten redundancies.
A Conservative spokesman said:
“Under the Conservatives, the number of children living in poverty has fallen by 300,000.
“Extending free meals has led to over a million more children eating a school meal at lunchtime and by introducing the Pupil Premium, we are targeting an extra £2.5 billion toward the education of the most disadvantaged every year, which helping close the attainment gap with their peers.
“Thanks to our policies, there are more jobs than ever before, wages are rising faster than prices and with the lowest inflation on record, family budgets are starting to go further. The NASUWT should recognise how the Conservatives have rescued the economy, and through that, are delivering the jobs that secure a better future for families.
“Our Child Poverty Strategy is tackling poverty at its source: dealing with the problems of worklessness and family breakdown which blight the lives of vulnerable families. But we know that there is much more to do. We need to stick to our long-term economic plan, so that all children have the best possible start in life.”
> All I can say is it’s a good thing Pinoccio isn’t a government spokesman…
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 Apr 2015