In one of the most deprived areas in northern Europe people have had enough writes Jim Scott, convenor of Pembrokeshire People's Assembly
Pembrokeshire in West Wales has been hit hard by Austerity. The local hospital was already under threat before 2010 but with year-on-year cuts to Welsh Government budgets it now looks like the Health Board are going to press ahead with plans to close the A&E department and then eventually remove all essential services from the hospital, we have already lost our paediatrics department.
The local food bank; PATCH Charity, recently produced a report for the UN Rapporteur and the findings were very damning in regards to the effect that austerity has had. Debt has become a huge problem often due to people on low incomes having no choice but to turn to unscrupulous companies like Wonga who charge around 4,500% interest for their loans, forcing many families to turn to foodbanks. Zero hours contracts, poor public transport, Universal Credit roll out & Benefit sanctions have all contributed to people slipping further into poverty & debt. There is also very little provision for people with mental health problems, there has been a steep spike in people accessing the foodbank since Universal Credit roll out. People with mental health problems or people who are without the necessary IT skills to navigate the Universal Credit system are finding themselves sanctioned and without any money for periods from 2 months to 100 days or even longer, this in turn is causing a homelessness problem, sanctioned people are often evicted from their homes and then forced to rely on friends so they become ‘sofa surfers’ and find themselves among the growing number of ‘hidden homeless’ in this county.
Due to council budget cuts the county is in a visible mess with verges and parks often un kept, libraries and community learning centres have been closed. Many Schools recently closed or merged and changed their names here, as a result parents had to buy new uniforms but the grants do not cover the cost for the first year, Parents have had to spend their incomes on School uniforms as a result and have had to turn to the food bank in order to survive. The cost of school trips and events can also push parents into unmanageable debt.
There is also very little help available for people with gambling problems and people with substance misuse issues, as a result these people are often falling through the net.
People with mental health or anxiety problems who fall foul of the rigorous Universal Credit regime and find themselves sanctioned, evicted from their homes or in debt have been disproportionately affected. The increased worry and stress that all these factors cause can become insurmountable for some already dealing with mental health issues and they are becoming suicidal as a result. Disabled people are reporting severe hardship as they have services, benefits and care removed, life has become intolerable for many.
Last year PATCH foodbank gave out 3,864 food parcels, that equates to 57,960 meals in a county with a population of 124,700.
Pembrokeshire a is very rural county however we have very poor, yet disproportionately expensive public transport compared to in Cities. With the rise of zero hours contracts job seekers are finding themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty as they cannot afford to buy or run their own car but have to rely on this poor public transport in order to work. With zero hours contracts they never know how much they will be able to earn from day to day, week to week so feel that they have no way of escaping this cycle of poverty.
Our Preseli Pembrokeshire MP is Conservative, Stephen Crabb (former DWP Secretary), many people have visited or written to Stephen Crabb warning of all the hardship that has been created by his Government’s austerity program and benefit reforms, Pembrokeshire People’s Assembly have directly campaigned & lobbied Stephen Crabb (and Simon Hart) for over 5 years however they have ignored our calls for a change in direction. Stephen Crabb has consistently voted for cuts to Welsh funding, benefits and public services despite knowing full well the effects these cut are having.
The overall picture here in Pembrokeshire is that our most vulnerable people are now suffering great hardship after 8 years of austerity with often no hope of any way out of mounting poverty, financial stress and debt.
Pembrokeshire will be part of the Nationwide Tour. We will release the tour dates very soon.