Plymouth is already hurting. People who’ve never claimed benefit are turning to the city’s two food banks. Ever-spiraling pay day loans are leaving many more with debts they can never clear. And many more look like heading that way when the unemployed have to wait seven days before claiming.
George Osborne’s latest cuts, announced yesterday will, the city’s chief executive warns, “devastate” local services already under huge pressure. Or as The Independent put it: “The Wonga coup: Osborne’s ‘gift to the payday lenders’ Even the FT warns that when it comes to Welfare “No one safe after 2015”.
This was hardly news to the group of Plymouth citizens who turned out for The People United (check) meeting at an upstairs room at the Guildall last night.
The meeting heard how financial pressures are putting fresh strains on families – and hitting mental health services. As anxiety, depression and people on the brink talking of suicide rise – the cash -strapped local council has cut back on funds it gives to the mental health charity MIND. Funds are being squeezed and the vulnerable left yet more so. Domestic violence and racist abuse are also on the rise, according to reports from the front-line.
Then there’s the bed room tax, which threatens to bring yet more anxiety to families already struggling to make ends meet. There certainly wasn’t much of the feel good factor around at the meeting – but the “Plymouth spirit” got a few mentions. And of how community activism – from time banks to sharing meals with groups of neighbors – can help build a sense of shared purpose and empowerment in grim times. Against the backdrop of cuts upon cuts, buckling under doesn’t really cut it.
Things can only get tougher while the ConDems are in power. But as one prominent trade unionist put it last night: “We’ve got to create spaces where we can talk about rebuilding hope.”
News that the Competition Commission is to probe “widespread irresponsible lending” by Pay Day loan companies broke this morning. So it’s good to see the Office of Fair Trading catch up with the view that’s been heard at the school gates, in bars, works canteens and job centres for ages now.
There’s something very unfair and distasteful about companies profiteering from poverty so brazenly. And using unfunny puppets mocking pensioners to market loans with an ever growing number of zeros on the end should, perhaps, be made a criminal offence.
So let’s hope Wonga and its ilk are forced to wipe the slate clean if they are found to have loaned cash to people who never had the slightest chance of servicing the debt, let alone clearing it.. Now there’s a campaign that could well take off if the OFT fails to deliver …..