IN A debate on Thursday, I took another chance to raise the impact of benefit reforms on the people I represent in Parliament.
The Bedroom Tax has been an unmitigated disaster for communities like Torfaen, causing human suffering on a scale that is totally unacceptable in the 21st century.
Residents with no history of rent arrears have been plunged into debt by a sudden cut in their income. The UK Government says they should find smaller homes, yet there is a shortage of smaller properties in many parts of Wales, such as the north of the valley I represent.
So people are left with little choice but to face a reduction in their income.
This results in a growing number of people facing the stark choice between paying the rent, heating their homes or eating.
Torfaen council has seen applications for Discretionary Housing Payments increase from 700 to 3,500 in just one year. Our local council deserves credit for committing extra money to help those in need, but their stretched resources can’t solve all the problems caused by this Government’s heartless and ill-considered policies.
Hence the massive increase in demand on foodbanks. The spectre of families queuing for help to feed their children may be an inconvenient one for the Government, but it is a reality we have to face up to.
One national paper sent a reporter into a foodbank to try to prove that people could get food ‘no questions asked’, to back up the crass and ignorant claim that people using foodbanks are merely playing the system to get free food.
Of course, he was asked questions by the volunteer – Trussell Trust foodbanks like the one in the Eastern Valley serve people referred to them as ‘in need’ by agencies like the council or the Citizens Advice Bureau.
In any case, it is quite shameful to undermine and attack those who are decent enough to give up their time up to help those in need. Thank goodness we have good papers here in Gwent like the Argus, who take a more balanced and compassionate approach to these issues.
Many misconceptions about foodbanks and benefit reform stem from the mistaken belief that they largely only affect the unemployed, or those who are somehow to blame for their situation.
The reality is that many people who receive housing benefit, or who need to turn to foodbanks in a time of crisis, are certainly not lazy or feckless but trying to keep a roof over their head and feed their family while suffering from the effects of low pay or zero hour contracts.