Last week I was honoured to chair a meeting in Parliament with the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Professor Alston, who had been visiting the UK for two weeks to take evidence on poverty.
Professor Alston is a renowned expert on poverty who has prepared reports on poverty in Chile, Romania, Mauritania, China, Saudi Arabia, the USA and Ghana.
With 14 million people – a fifth of the population – in poverty, including 4 million people who live at least 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million deemed to be destitute and unable to afford even the basics is a shocking indictment of us in the world’s fifth richest country.
MPs from all parties spoke movingly about having to help set up more foodbanks, and to increase the number and range of products given as people now need not just extras, but essentials.
Before his trip I emphasised to the professor the importance of looking at rural poverty and was pleased that he visited rural areas and took evidence from Rural Action Derbyshire.
So the report is one of the few that sets out how the lack of services and affordable transport in villages mean that being poor in the countryside can be a much more difficult and isolating experience than in a city.
Here in High Peak we need to make sure we support the growing numbers of people on very low incomes.
With high bus prices and services being reduced, and our community volunteer services under threat of cuts, it’s becoming much harder to get around without a car. I applaud the food banks who make deliveries to people who can’t travel to them, but I wish we didn’t need their services.
It’s not right that children are going hungry in such a rich country. Poverty costs us all. It costs our government a staggering £78 billion a year in extra services and lost income due to poverty.
We should all be trying to help people on low incomes, so I’ve been shocked to hear from people struggling to pay their council tax who have had bailiffs sent to them by High Peak Council, often wrongly, but incurring large fees and causing huge amounts of stress to families who often just need a bit longer to pay their bills.
I’ve asked the Council to review their policy on bailiffs. Areas which have changed to supporting families rather than intimidating bailiffs have seen an increase in the council tax collected and reduced fees.
We should not be punishing people for being poor – it’s often a result of government policies – and I will do all I can to fight poverty both nationally and in High Peak.