Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru Councillor for the Queensway ward in Wrexham Council
This is a difficult piece to write. It’s about the people I grew up with, people who live in my community and went to school with. They’re not just statistics to be trotted out.
I’m currently collecting food donations for a family, people I was in school with, as they’re completely penniless due to Universal Credit failures that have supercharged levels of poverty in my community.
Representing Queensway, one of the most deprived wards in the country, I see first hand what poverty looks like day in and day out. In the area where I grew up, Caia Park in Wrexham.
Almost half of the children in three of the five Caia wards are living in poverty according to the latest figures. The stories behind these cold stats are often heartbreaking but the political ideology driving these increases is quite simply hateful.
Universal Credit, in particular, has had a major impact. Wrexham went live with Universal Credit in 2017 and 5,734 local families are currently on the benefit. Just over a third of those are in work.
Over the last two years, I’ve seen families lurch from crisis to crisis having to navigate the cruel system designed by the Tories to rip to shreds the welfare safety net that was once in place. It’s meant people are falling through the holes in the safety net and hitting the ground hard.
The most recent case I dealt with involved a family who had been through tough times and found themselves in temporary accommodation after losing their home. The woman involved told me what it was like living on next to nothing as she transferred to Universal Credit.
For several weeks at a time, she didn’t have a penny in her bank account and explained how she would take sleeping pills to try and get through the day because she couldn’t afford anything to eat and couldn’t stand the hunger.
I’ve also worked with a local working mum who described her experience of Universal Credit as ‘the worst thing that had ever happened to her and her family’. She described mistake after mistake, which meant she lost hundreds of pounds thanks to wages being miscalculated by the DWP, who then refused to reimburse her for the errors. The botched calculations resulted in the family relying on food donations to survive.
Food bank usage locally has risen by 20%, with almost 5000 emergency food parcels being handed out last year, the local foodbank attributes the rise directly to the introduction of Universal Credit.
And that’s just the official food bank. Other charities have also emerged to help with the crisis – a volunteer-led scheme called Given to Shine collects surplus food from local supermarkets and shops and re-distributes it along with free sanitary products to families in Wrexham and Flintshire. Again, they tell me Universal Credit is directly responsible for poverty rises.
One of the saddest experiences I have ever had was volunteering for this charity on Christmas Eve and seeing local families queueing at the church in the dark with their children to collect food donations. Given to Shine now delivers more than 8000 food parcels a year, including 500 at Christmas.
Unless you’re directly involved, much of this poverty goes unseen. I often hear people ignorantly claim it doesn’t exist at all but I see it all the time. The bottom line though is that it shouldn’t exist in Wales or anywhere else in the UK in 2019.
The fact that Wales is seeing a rise in child poverty while countries like Scotland are heading in the other direction makes it clear that we need to break free of the shackles of the UK Government’s failing welfare policies and this vile Tory ideology, which is plummeting people into the abyss.
I want to see Wales take control of welfare policy so we can start to improve the lives of the next generation rather than condemning them to poverty.
As things stand, I have no faith that this current Labour Government in Cardiff will make a difference and we all know Westminster Tories couldn’t care less. That’s why we urgently need to see a change in government and put Plaid Cymru in power, so that we can tackle these issues head-on and take Welsh communities in a new direction.
The Wales I want, the one we all need to build, won’t let anyone slip through the net.