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Council to publish Birmingham ‘soup kitchen’ map

Council to publish Birmingham ‘soup kitchen’ map

🕔06.Mar 2013

soupOfficials at Birmingham City Council are hard at work on a new piece of research.

And in doing so they are following in the footsteps of colleagues 80 years ago.

The task is to produce a map showing the location of food banks in Birmingham, where people who do not have the means to support themselves can go to get a free meal.

It’s exactly what the council would have done during the Great Depression in the 1930s, and would also have been the sort of service familiar to Joseph Chamberlain in the 1880s.

The sight, in the early part of the 21st century, of modern-day versions of soup kitchens on the streets of Britain’s second largest city is symptomatic of the acute financial strain felt by many families who are being squeezed by a combination of benefit cuts and high unemployment, according to the council.

Cllr John Cotton, cabinet member for social cohesion, describes the Government’s welfare reform plans as a “time bomb” that he believes will throw households into a spiral of debt and drive many to consider “desperate measures” in an effort to keep their head above water.

If Cotton’s prediction sounds over dramatic, consider this. Cuts to council tax benefit and housing benefit alone will leave thousands of Birmingham’s poorest families almost £1,000 a year worse off during 2013-14.

And that’s in a city where unemployment is twice the national average, a third of children are officially classified as living in poverty and there is a life expectancy gap of 10 years between the least and most affluent wards.

A cut in Government funding for council tax benefit means that low income Birmingham households will only be able to claim up to 80 per cent of the tax from next month rather than the full amount as they do now. They must pay the remaining 20 per cent, which is £222 for a band D property.

At the same time a new under-occupation penalty for people living in social housing, dubbed the bedroom tax, will deliver cuts in benefit averaging £728 a year.

Tenants of working age can expect their payments to be cut if they have one or more spare bedrooms – a 14 per cent reduction for one spare bedroom, and 25 per cent for two spare rooms.

Ministers insist the bedroom tax will encourage people with spare rooms to move into a smaller home, thereby freeing up larger houses for those on the waiting list.

Pensioners are exempt from this, but all others will be entitled to one bedroom for each adult or couple living permanently at the property.

Children aged 15 or under of the same gender will be expected to share a room.

Parents will not be able to argue that a bedroom has to be kept free for the use of children when they return from college or university.

Research by the Castle Vale Housing Association in Birmingham suggests that Department for Work and Pensions estimates about the impact of the bedroom tax are wildly optimistic.

The DWP claims that 25 per cent of tenants hit by the changes will move to a smaller home. Only six per cent at Castle Vale said they would do so. According to the DWP, 30 per cent of tenants will move into work or work extra hours. Only four per cent at Castle Vale said they planned to do so.

Ominously, 88 per cent of Castle Vale tenants said they would simply have to try to find the money themselves to make up the shortfall in benefit. The DWP claims that only 35 per cent of people would take such a course of action.

Castle Vale Housing Association says it expects to see bad debts increase by £150,000 a year as a direct result of benefit cuts.

Cllr Cotton added: “We are mapping out food banks across the city at the moment. There is an absolute growth in this area and there are already two in my own ward.

“This shows the extent of the crisis building up out there.

“Food banks are a great voluntary effort, but a sad reflection of the fact that this type of thing is becoming part of our welfare state.

“It is a huge ask to expect people who are already close to the bread line to make up the difference between the amount of benefit they receive now and the far smaller amount they will get in future. The gradient of the hill that they have to climb just got steeper.”

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