Leona O'Neill: Tory cuts are pushing families into poverty – it's time to get them out

In the age of Tory-led austerity measures and benefit cuts, families on the breadline are being pushed over the edge into poverty and must rely on the kindness of others to get by. Things will only get worse if the Tories remain in government, writes Leona O'Neill

Hundreds of thousands of families are bearing the brunt of Tory cuts to Universal Credit

EVERY week on social media I see pleas coming through various organisations from families who are desperate – they have no food, no electricity, no heat in their homes. They have no money for home heating oil and no money for food.

I watch as people in my community rally around mothers with little children, buying them groceries, donating beds, fridges, putting oil in their tank, whatever they need.

Every week in the community sector I see people working hard with parents with £3 to last them all week, to get them whatever help they can. Some of these mums and dads have to rely on food bank vouchers. I hear them say that they will feed the kids with whatever they get, that as long as they aren't hungry, they won't worry just as much. Sometimes these mothers and fathers don't even have £3, they have nothing, absolutely nothing, to live on.

Can you imagine what that feels like? The dread in the pit of their stomach about what to do? What to tell the children at dinner time? The panic you'd feel when you didn't know where to turn to help your family. For many people in our community, that is the reality in the era of Universal Credit and welfare reform.

Almost one-in-three children in the UK are now growing up in poverty. Government figures show that over four million children in the UK were living in relative poverty in 2018 and that number is sure to rise as the real impact of Universal Credit takes its brutal grip-hold on our society.

Universal Credit is a benefit for working-age people, replacing six benefits and merging them into one payment. It was designed to make claiming benefits simpler. It was implemented by the Tory government. Labour have said they will scrap it should they get into power.

Hundreds of thousands of families across the UK are being pushed over the edge and into poverty by cuts to Universal Credit, the benefits cap, and rules that penalise families with more than two children. And families have been struggling with the timescale for their first Universal Credit payments, with some having to wait five weeks to get paid.

In my eyes, it is a cruel system invented and implemented by those who have no idea of the reality of living on the breadline, of being stuck in a rut of not being able to find work in an ever-challenging landscape that does not look like it will get any better. They couldn't begin to contemplate what it feels like to have £1.10 in your electric meter, or absolutely nothing in your fridge, of having to get your kids to wear coats to their beds because you've no oil in your tank, no one to turn to and maybe a three, four, five week wait on your horizon before any money would be available to you.

My heart broke for a local mother who took to Facebook last week to tell her story. She said she was so ashamed to admit that she needed help and didn't know where to go. That her oil had run out and she had no money for food, baby food or electricity. She had no one to turn to except strangers on social media for help and advice. She pleaded with people not to troll her, that she felt bad enough as it was. And people did help, because they have a heart and many of them, I'm sure, knew how she felt. They were maybe that mother once.

This is not the Victorian era, although looking around modern society with its food banks and children freezing in their beds at night, you'd nearly think we'd gone back in time. Thank God for our community workers who tirelessly help these families – these mothers and fathers like you and I, desperate to keep their children safe, healthy and happy – day and daily. Who provide food bank vouchers and signpost them to others who will help them carry their heavy burden.

It shouldn't be this way, but it is. Let's just hope the Tories aren't gifted another stint in power.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access