Money’s too tight to mention, Aberdeen

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Aberdeen Food Bank

Today the second of the big gas and electric companies today announced that prices were to rise and in some areas that rise from British Gas will be up to 11.2% for duel fuel. Add that on to the freeze in wages or below inflation pay rises many have been suffering, increased prices in food, petrol, the continuing 20% rate of VAT, Bedroom Tax and poor return on any savings from the banks we bailed out it’s no wonder that more and more families are on the brink of poverty.

Today’s response from the government on the increase in fuel bills was met with a comment of “extremely disappointing news”. Wow! That’ll tell them! This comes the day after a tweet from a Tory MP was taken down as they questioned the rise in pressure on food banks across the country – tripling demand in some cases. The issues are deep and damaging as working families do not have the ability to get by anymore and it’s happening here in the “Oil Capital of Europe”. Yet does anyone notice? Well those working in the Instant Neighbour food banks do, with almost two and a half times as many people using the service this year already – areas like Seaton and Tillydrone have levels of poverty levels of 30% of their populations who are turning to these charities for help.

Sophy Green from Instant Neighbour summed it up well in her comment that although the average gross weekly wage in Aberdeen is £716.70 compared to Scotland’s average of £584.90 it’s the divide between rich and poor that is increasing and those at the top are skewing the figures for those at the bottom. To clarify what poverty is, it’s calculated by a level of 60% of the national average wage – so currently the poverty line is at £256 per week. That means across the UK there is around 16% of the overall population living below that measure.

£256 a week? We could survive on that couldn’t we? Well the average rental price in Aberdeen per month is now over £1000 – a grand a month just for rent means that even in the lower priced accommodation bracket the bottom price moves up too and people cannot afford it anymore. If poverty is around £1000 income a month by the time you take off mortgage or rent, fuel, electricity, other utilities, council tax, food bills and other day-to-day costs – that grand looks like it’s gone. So how do Energy suppliers and the government think we can afford these huge increases in prices?

Jamie Oliver had the temerity to comment that those in poverty shouldn’t buy big TVs, but when you can’t afford to go out maybe the television is the only thing you have in your home you can do. And his comment is a huge part of the problem. There is a perception that “we’ll get by, we always have done before” but it’s okay for the politicians who claimed millions in expenses and a rich TV chef. You or I cannot claim for our house, food, transport and entertainment as the MPs do on top of their wages – we have to scrounge around to make sure we can afford the next bill that falls on the doormat.

There is a real lack of understanding from those at the top about how tight things are even for working families with two wages coming in. Increases in costs of any kind just now is a real stress for people. The Poverty and Social Inclusion research group have some scary stats from last year’s survey of tens of thousands of UK residents:

  • Around 4 million people are not properly fed by today’s standards.
  • Around 2.5 million children live in homes that are damp.
  • Around 2.3 million households cannot afford to heat the living areas of their homes.
  • Over 30 million people suffer from financial insecurity
  • 600,000 children live in a home that is both damp and which the household cannot afford to heat: that’s one in 20 children
  • Well over half a million children live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly
  • Over 3.5 million adults cannot afford to eat properly
  • 3 million adults cannot afford house insurance
  • 1.9 million kids will not be taken on holiday or have day trips because their parents either cannot afford it or afford to take the time off work.

This is happening here in Aberdeen too. The mythical “Oil Rich Aberdeen”. There are few areas of the city that don’t have these problems, and people have to make serious choices each day just to get through it. It’s easy to point out all the flaws and faults, the addictions and luxuries they can afford, the stereotypes and caricatures but the majority of these people are trying to do their best but their options are limited.

The job of government at any level is to ensure that they do their best by the population they serve. Nationally the politicians are failing, in Scotland the government are failing to help, locally the council are not doing their jobs to protect and serve these people. It’s not a case of pointing the finger and blaming, but someone needs to step in before we have an even worse situation on our hands once the weather turns cold. If this was happening in another country we’d be carrying buckets round and doing sponsored events to support them. This time it is literally our neighbours but who’s going do something?

JD

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