We must help families whose children root through bins for food

Hollings Street where children have been seen rooting through bins.

Hollings Street where children have been seen rooting through bins.

Don’t laugh, but I’ll admit I had a hard time believing our own story the other day.

The headline certainly grabbed me: “Starving children are eating from bins in Fenton.”

Really? Surely not, I thought. Not in this day and age. And where are their parents anyway?

Can it honestly be the case that in one of the richest countries in the world in 2014 there are hungry children rummaging through bins for other people’s leftovers?

This is the kind of thing you shake your head at when you see it on the TV in some Third World shanty town on the TV.

It’s like something you’d read in a post-apocalyptic novel. Some sort of twisted future where a privileged fview live in safety, comfort and sometimes luxury and the rest eke out a living in medieval-style villages or Dickensian urban squalor.

But, according to eye-witnesses, this is actually happening in certain parts of our city – the Hollings Street and the Brocksford Street areas of Fenton, to be precise.

Concerned residents raised the matter at a recent meeting with police – citing the problems of rubbish-strewn streets and the potential risk to the health of those involved.

One of the people quoted in our story was Glenn Parkes – a volunteer at the local foodbank and someone I know. If Glenn says this is happening, then I believe him.

But why is it happening? Why are children, especially, going hungry and resorting to such sad, desperate and potentially dangerous measures?

The answer may be complex and multi-faceted but it also fairly obvious.

Families who were previously almost entirely or perhaps solely supported by the welfare state have seen their incomes dramatically reduced under coalition gGovernment reforms.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for everyone contributing to society and getting the feckless and the lazy off their backsides.

They do exist and they make my blood boil in the same way useless bankers and untouchable public sector executives do when they’ve done a poor job and then get a ridiculous pay-off.

But the one-size-fits-all approach to welfare reform adopted by the Government assumed that families for whom benefits was a way of life would overnight become hard-working and valuable citizens.

I’m sorry, but in the real world that just doesn’t happen without massive intervention on the part of the state to help turn such lives and aspirations around.

And wWhile Chancellor George Osborne eulogises about the recovery and talks of the need for further reform, the truth is many families who are his ideal ‘hard-working’ stereotype are themselves on the breadline because of redundancy or continuing low wages.

Then there are those parents who simply aren’t very capable – lacking either the knowledge or care to properly look after their children and prioritise their needs.

People of my age will remember there were always one or two children who were seen as poor and unloved in their class or year at school. The ones with the messy hair and shabby clothes, with shirts and blouses un-ironed and ill-fitting, scuffed shoes.

Strangely, it seems to me there are a lot more of those these days than there were 30 years ago.

There are, of course, other factors too – such as a flawed immigration policy.

This certainly plays its part in perpetuating deprivation in areas where local services can’t cope and where integration of various cultures doesn’t fit the grand vision of our multi-cultural utopia.

Whatever the reasons, as a society we surely can’t stand for a situation where children, from whatever background, are rifling through rubbish for food?

There is clearly something very wrong when foodbanks are expanding quicker than multi-nationals and where ordinary families are constantly being asked to set aside tins of beans and packets of pasta and rice for people living down the road in Stoke-on-Trent.

If anyone knows of a family or individuals in such desperate need that they resort to picking through other people’s leftovers then for heaven’s sake do something to help them.

There’s no shame in someone falling on hard times or wanting help and support.

The shame is if we, as a society, turn our backs on them in their hour of need.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

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Benefits system has cheated the likes of Mr Lovatt

I couldn’t help but feel frustrated for self-employed joiner Andrew Lovatt when I read of his plight yesterday.
Surely the welfare state was created for people like Mr Lovatt who, having worked and paid taxes for 23 years, has fallen on hard times through no fault of his own.
But having tried to claim employment and support allowance after suffering a heart attack, the father-of-two from Burslem has been told he has to wait six weeks for his money.
Why? Because of a £7.20 underpayment in National Insurance dating back seven years.
No wonder he has given up on receiving the money.
If the matter wasn’t so serious to Mr Lovatt and his family I suggest it would make a fine comedy sketch involving an incredulous worker and hordes of benefits scroungers wandering away with wads of cash.
Indeed I wonder how he feels when he sees millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money handed out willy-nilly to malingerers who have never done a day’s work in their lives.
Whatever the reason for the National Insurance underpayment you would think that someone from Department for Work and Pensions could pull their fingers out in Mr Lovatt’s case.
Surely it is not beyond the wit of man for an arrangement to be made whereby Mr Lovatt receives his allowance minus the £7.20.
Or do the wheels of the welfare system only turn quickly for those who see claiming benefits as a career in itself?
I, for one, was delighted when Chancellor George Osborne made a series of benefit cuts totalling more than £7 billion the centrepiece of his speech to Parliament on what the tabloids dubbed ‘axe Wednesday’.
Some commentators argue the cuts target the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society.
I disagree.
We are all going to suffer as a result of the Government’s austerity measures but at least the welfare cuts will target the laziest, most apathetic and useless individuals (whom the rest of us are carrying).
Under the changes, the employment and support allowance – brought in to replace incapacity benefit – will be time-limited to a year for those claimants judged able to work in future. About time, too, because for every genuine claimant we all know of someone else who has spent years conning the system.
I live near to one. My friend’s father is one.
Yes, we can blame the system that gives out the money but, essentially we are talking about lazy, workshy and often devious individuals.
These are people who are happy to sit at home all day while the rest of us drag our tired bones out of bed on a cold winter’s morning in order to earn a crust.
It is a national disgrace which previous governments have done nothing to tackle.
Indeed, the last one perpetuated a culture where some families think it is acceptable to spend their whole lives claiming state benefits.
Stoke-on-Trent is among the worst cities in the UK with regards to this plague of apathy.
In September 2009, 24 per cent of the city’s working population were economically inactive. That’s 35,500 people.
Of these, 8,180 were claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and a further 17,920 were claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or incapacity benefits.
Even given our city’s unique problems and levels of deprivation, these figures are truly breathtaking and make grim reading when set against the many hundreds of job losses forecast last week by the city council alone.
It is these people, about to be made redundant by the local authority, for whom I feel sorry.
The majority will immediately attempt to find work again but some may be forced to rely on benefits in the short-term.
These vulnerable people should be assured of assistance while they get back on their feet – along with those who, for a variety of reasons, can never hold down a job.
The rest should be subject to the most rigorous testing and, if they refuse to take a job when offered one, they should have their benefits cut.
Never mind if it’s not quite the job of their dreams. It is about making a contribution to the society from which they are happy to take, take, take.
Then maybe the Mr Lovatts of this world will get the help they need when they need it.