This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on the cost-of-living crisis in the 5th richest country in the world according to GDP.
In my previous columns I have tackled specific aspects of the state of this country since 2010 and the deliberate and callous attitude by the Tories at Westminster to undermine and reduce the welfare state, first created by Labour after World War II. Since the pandemic began and lockdowns were first initiated in March 2020, we at You Can Cook were stopped right in our tracks by the inability to deliver any of our services to communities locally and across Scotland. A huge loss to many that relied on our services and the nutritious and delicious food that many accessed and enjoyed while learning to cook and eat healthy meals daily for themselves and their families.
We have seen a consistent rise in people and children going hungry because of benefit cuts and sanctions imposed via the DWP on parents; that due to unemployment, disability and lack of opportunities had their only source of income abruptly cut. Add the rise in energy costs since April and we are now in a perfect storm. In many cases we stepped in to provide extra food through our cookery classes so that participants could take home with them meals to share with their families. As an organisation we have been at the forefront of this crisis helping support struggling children and their parents who could not afford to buy food. I will never forget seeing children feeling tired and coming to school hungry because their parents could not feed them breakfast in the morning or even worse dinner the night before!
Since Brexit this problem only got worse due to rising costs of basic foods and putting a huge financial strain on many working-class families and those that have to rely on benefits for no fault of their own. The pandemic, job loses, reduction of benefits and now the unfolding energy crisis has already pushed millions into debt, poverty, homelessness and mental health problems. We have just started to deliver our cookery sessions this year and have already seen a huge increase in the prices of essential commodities like milk, bread, fresh vegetable and fruits, meats, and many other staple foods. The ability to provide extra support has been jeopardised due to high price increases. Children unfortunately are facing the brunt of this situation as they are left feeling vulnerable, hungry and desperate for some relief. The Scottish government is doing it best to mitigate the shambolic rolling out of Universal Credit which is the root of the problem and forcing even more citizens on to foodbanks like never before.
As an organisation we have been in a unique position to help and support the most vulnerable in our community and we have spoken truth to power. Our organisation is not funded by local or national governments. This gives us leverage to raise difficult issues with politicians and bureaucrats albeit at a financial cost to ourselves. Trying to raise awareness about nutritious foods and how to access fresh produce is in jeopardy as the massive price increases in the last few years is making it impossible to convince and motivate people to swap their ready meals for some fresh home cooked meal. Foodbanks are here to stay and have become part of the welfare state. A sad state of affairs in modern Britain.
Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 6th May 2022
Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week it’s the Tories toxic Universal Credit system which is disproportionately affecting the disabled, working poor and low-income families.
A very long time ago I had written about the shambles that would be Universal Credit, a policy introduced by Tory MP Ian Duncan Smith to make poverty disappear and work pay. All very good, since he had this epiphany while touring Easterhouse a council estate in Glasgow in 2002. This tour was carried out for his Think Tank Centre for Social Justice which was set up to find solutions to poverty in modern Britain.
Public memory is short-lived and our MPs know this, as even though they are responsible for the worst atrocities (benefit cuts) committed during peacetime on the British public, the Tories have managed to consolidate their power and even influence the working class to vote for them in the last general elections by blaming the ‘other’, in this case European citizens living and working in the UK. Brexit and Covid have decimated the livelihoods of millions of citizens and their families with many losing their jobs overnight and many having to resort to food banks to make ends meet and provide food for their children. The £20 top-up that was provided to every single claimant of universal credit last year has now been withdrawn, leaving many to fall back on food banks, loan sharks and if living in private rented accommodation at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords who are waiting to evict tenants who cannot pay their rent. I have said this before, in principle I do agree with the concept of Universal Credit as it was designed to incorporate six benefits into one. But in practice it was a disaster as the founders of this system; The Centre for Social Justice, were clueless about the complexities of the previous benefit system. There is still no evidence that Universal Credit is getting people into work compared to the previous system by the Labour government in 1999, while the costs of implementing it has risen to over £1.4 billion.
The National Audit Office said that the controversial five week wait for a first universal credit payment continued to exacerbate many claimants’ debt problems and push them into hardship. Vulnerable claimants – including those with physical, mental or learning disabilities, people with few digital skills, or with chaotic lives – were more likely to struggle with their claim, the NAO said, with the complicated process of moving onto the benefit causing payment delays and financial problems for these claimants.
On a final note, the £20 top-up was actually what amount claimants would have been receiving today if taking inflation into account and had the Tories not cut the benefit amount and thresholds of Housing, Working Tax and Child Tax Credits. The rich have got richer and the poor are made to fight among themselves. Divide and rule, the classic British policy is now being used on its own citizens for keeping the status quo.
Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 8th October 2021
Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week it’s higher energy bills, the end of furlough and removal of the £20 top-up to Universal Credit, a triple whammy, as millions of families will struggle financially this winter having to choose between feeding themselves or keeping warm!
From 1st October over 15 million people could be waking up to a massive increase in their energy bills with the announcement that the energy cap on some deals will be increasing by £139 per year. This is happening due to a combination of factors including Brexit and a rise in wholesale gas prices by more than 50% since the beginning of the year. Cheap energy deals are disappearing and becoming a rarity in the open market putting huge financial strains on low-income families and pensioners. The good news is that we can still reduce our bills as the price cap applies to certain energy deals like standard, default and out-of-contract tariff. Basically, they all mean the same thing i.e., if you have haven’t switched your energy supplier in a while or took no action when your last fixed deal ended, then you will be one of those that will be impacted by the price rise. Global prices of fossil fuels are rising, especially gas due to Covid-19 and a longer winter last year also meant that refiling of gas stores was delayed. Since some of our electricity is generated from gas, this means electricity prices are affected too. Energy companies are not obliged to increase their prices to match the new cap but big energy firms will do so in order to keep shareholders happy.
Add the removal of the £20 per week top-up to Universal Credit and the end of furlough and we are heading into a perfect storm brought about by polices of the Westminster (Tory) government which the Scottish government (SNP & Greens) have no control over. The worst hit will be those on prepayment meters. These are like pay as you go i.e., top up as you go along and are mostly used by low-income groups. Prepayment customers are charged more for each unit of energy than people on standard credit meters. In fact, the cheapest prepaid tariffs (£1,052, according to Ofgem) was found to be over £200 more expensive than the cheapest direct debit tariff (£846) in August 2019. Prepayment meter tariffs are also covered by the price cap. These are set to rise by even more. If you’ve chosen a fixed deal (one that has a set contract length) then you won’t be affected by the price cap changes. Housing charity Shelter estimates that nearly half a million private tenants are in arrears and this figure has doubled since the pandemic. Private renters spend more of their income on housing than any other housing tenure. Social housing is scarce and not readily available to fill the gap. The outdated Local Housing Allowance Rates needs a major overhaul as is not fit for purpose e.g., Scottish Borders is allocated a maximum of £74.79 per week rent (£324.09 per month). This is fine if you live in some remote parts of the Borders and in social housing but not in Peebles or the surrounding areas including Innerleithen. A private one-bedroom flat for rent in Peebles is around £450+. Which planet do these politicians live on, definitely not the same as us mere mortals?
We are going to witness a winter of discontent across the country if the Westminster Tory government does not get its act together and remove policy’s that impact the majority of the citizens of this country. Here is hoping that the four nations can keep themselves warm and well fed this coming winter.
Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 20th August 2021.