Activists donate to food bank in protest at Universal Credit and pay caps

Cambridge anti-austerity activists will donate a car bootful of goods to Cambridge City Foodbank, in protest at the winter food crisis they are concerned will follow the Conservative government's rollout of the Universal Credit benefit (meant to replace six existing means-tested benefits) and at the public sector pay cap.

We want to help Cambridge City Foodbank prepare for Universal Credit, but our donation is equally a political gesture.

Six supporters of the Cambridge People's Assembly Against Austerity went shopping for donations last night with £100 from their campaign funds, as they had announced in the Cambridge News (Letters, 18 November).

'We want to help Cambridge City Foodbank prepare for the effects of Universal Credit,' said its secretary Neil Kirkham, 'but our donation's also and equally a political gesture: against the flawed new benefit, against the public sector pay cap, and against Theresa May's government.' Cambridge City Foodbank and its parent organization, the Trussell Trust, are politically neutral.

'When the chancellor Philip Hammond presents his budget on Wednesday, we want him to halt the rollout of Universal Credit, and to end the long pay cap, instead funding pay rises that at least keep up with inflation,' said Neil, who works in an academic library.

'Yet they're only two of the austerity policies which are pushing so many more into acute poverty. We need a complete change of political direction, towards equality and solidarity. And although our campaign's independent of all parties, that's a change we don't believe any Conservative government can help bring about.'

Disabled people have already been hit harder than any other group by austerity. This is one more blow against us.

The campaign's treasurer Nicki Myers, a wheelchair user who will herself have to claim Universal Credit, expanded on its concerns.

'The Trussell Trust gave out 1.2 million emergency food supplies last year, compared to 29,000 in 2008/9,' Nicki noted. 'The coalition and Conservative governments' unfair benefit cuts and sanctions have already played a part in driving hundreds of thousands more into really urgent need.'

'Universal Credit combines those compromised benefits and adds serious problems of its own – not least the long waiting time before claimants actually get any money. Disabled people have already been hit harder than any other group by austerity, with the closure of the Independent Living Fund and cuts to care. This is one more blow against us.'

This Conservative government continues to use austerity to undermine our public services.

The group loaded its purchases into the car of retired nurse Hilary Price.

'This Conservative government continues to use austerity as a device to undermine our public services,' said Hilary. 'Our NHS is being deprived of funds and sold off, whilst its dedicated and exhausted staff are being treated with utter contempt.'

'They have endured two years of pay freezes and five years of pay caps,' she added. 'Increasingly, nurses and also teachers are among those having to turn to food banks.' The Cambridge People's Assembly was one of the organizations marching against the public sector cap with the Cambridge and District Trades Council on Saturday 18 November.

The Cambridge group's action is part of a national effort ahead of the government's budget by the People's Assembly, founded in 2013 to link and support all those organizing to fight austerity.

As well as demonstrations and food drives by other local groups, the campaign's national office will spend the £12,000 proceeds from Captain Ska's hit protest single 'Liar, Liar' (which it helped promote) on donations to the food banks across the country most in need.

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