The clocks went back last night. Winter is on its way. Christmas is coming – the shops are already preparing.
Christmas is coming – but all that’s growing fat for many people in Leeds is debt.
For many of our fellow-citizens all that Christmas will mean is an ever greater headache – and desperation – as they struggle to make ends meet.
A shocking survey published this week by the Yorkshire Evening Post revealed the awful truth about the position in which many of our neighbours are now placed.
But the recent State of the Nation survey meant that that truth came as no surprise.
Growing poverty – WORKING POVERTY – is clear at local and national level.
Most people are seeing no benefit from the supposed economic upturn.

The Yorkshire Evening Post’s survey made grim reading.

Nearly half of YEP readers who responded had considered using a foodbank.
100s had turned to payday lenders.
20% were desperate.
And the reason – rising costs and stagnating wages – about 60% of respondents had not had a payrise in the last year.

The situation in Leeds is a reflection of the national one.
Official figures in August showed that the average weekly wages fell for the first time in five years in the second quarter.

Household debt in general has more than quadrupled since 1990. The 35-44 age group – once the greatest drivers of economic growth, are now the most indebted – thanks especially to large mortgages and low to non-existent wage growth.

This morning the Independent quoted figures showing that long-term low pay is at a historic high, and growing.

The State of the Nation 2014 report last week rammed home the message – Britain is fast becoming a permanently divided nation
– An 8.2% real terms fall in average weekly earnings since April;
1 in 5 children now in ABSOLUTE poverty – an increase since 2010/11.
– 2010-2020 set to be the first decade with a rise in ABSOLUTE POVERTY since records began in the early 1960s.

And the report is clear – the ‘problem’ is the working poor!
– The minimum wage is still 3.5% lower in real terms than in 2009;
– the proportion of children in poverty comes despite the fact that the number of children in workless households is at an all time low – with lone parent employment at a record high.
Forget all those myths about welfare scroungers – it’s the working poor who are being hit by austerity, cuts, welfare changes and stagnating wages.
‘Chronic low pay makes it hard for parents to work their own way out of poverty’.

So Leeds poverty is part of national poverty – and its face is the working parent and the impoverished child.

Low wages and high living costs mean that huge numbers of people in Leeds are just one step away from the edge – and that step may be a big energy bill, illness or redundancy.
Many others are already over the cliff.
Leeds StepChange charity told the Evening Post that numbers asking for help were up by a third over the first six months of this year – before the heavy costs of winter and Christmas hit them.

Keith Wakefield, Leeds Labour leader, told the YEP

“Poverty is the most important challenge our city is facing. Its effects can be devastating and far-reaching which is why we are taking dramatic steps to tackle it.
“Unfortunately the results of this survey are not a surprise. We are well aware that food banks and payday loans are very much a reality for some of our citizens.’

The only good news in all this is the help Council is giving.
“As a city, we are working hard to mitigate the effects of poverty and have put some real actions in place.
“We are joining forces with partners from voluntary and advice organisations to make sure that the support we provide together can lift people out of poverty.
“Over the past year, we have set up a new directorate which is leading on the council’s work tackling poverty and deprivation by making our services more accessible to those in need of advice and support.
“We have been targeting intensive support to those people most at risk, helping them to manage their finances better, and access employment opportunities.
“We have also started a campaign to tackle high-cost lending and promoting sensible lower-cost borrowing options such as Leeds City Credit Union.
“We have also established an online debt advice portal – the Money Information Centre, and have been working closely with local food bank providers to help them become sustainable.
“Eradicating poverty isn’t an easy task but we must put our citizens first, to give the whole city a chance of a successful future.”

There’s a council website to give suggested alternatives to payday lending.

The Council is funding the roll out of the Money Buddy service, pioneered successfully in Ebor Gardens. Leeds success here has led to interest from other cities – like Hull.

The Council runs a successful Money Information Centre and website.

There’s a Loan Shop on Roundhay Rd.

But in the end there’s a limit to what the Council can do.

This LibDem/Tory Coalition’s welfare changes need to be rolled back – starting with the bedroom tax.
We need to tackle the inequalities which the Coalition’s laissez faire neo-liberal economics have encouraged.
We need is to share the economic cake more fairly.
The economic recovery isn’t working for the bulk of the population.

A Stronger economy we may or may not have – but a Fairer one? – under this LibDem/Tory Government, emphatically not.

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