A team of Salford councillors collected 11 trolleys of food and toiletries donations last Saturday, during a giving day to help people in need in Walkden and Little Hulton.
The collection took place all day in front of Tesco in Walkden Town Centre, where local people were encouraged to give food or toiletries on the way to their weekly shop. Many were happy to purchase an extra item they could donate on their way out.
Councillors Laura Edwards and Richard Critchley, for Walkden South, Brendan Ryan, for Walkden North, and Robert Sharpe, for Little Hulton, had teamed up to organise the collection.
Walkden & Little Hulton Giving Day = huge success.
— Laura Edwards (@lauraee_) November 24, 2018
Cllr Edwards said: “In this area, there are over 3,000 children who live in poverty – that’s about a third of all children who live around here. That really worries me.
“Every Christmas, most food banks run out of stuff, so, by doing this in November, we are trying to make sure that they don’t run out this year.”
James Coffey, who works for Mustard Tree, said: “We’ve had a massive increase of people needing help from food banks in the past 12 months.
“Days like today help us tremendously. It’s just fantastic. It helps us to help more people. Everything we do is by donation – people donate money, food, furniture. Today, there are hundreds of meals in these trolleys that we will be able to give.”
Cllr Sharpe said: “There is a lot of deprivation in Little Hulton, and it is important people simply get a good meal. It’s not only for adults, but children as well: if they go to school on an empty stomach, it’s going to affect their learning, and their long-time careers.”
He added that the response of members of the public, when they were approached to donate, was fantastic. He said: “You can see by the number of trolleys we’ve got, the generosity of the people who came from the surrounding areas has been absolutely overwhelming.”
Cllr Edwards believes the increase in the number of people having to rely on food banks is due to both in-work poverty and changes to the benefits system.
She said: “There are so many people in work who are living in poverty, because the prices are going up but their wages are not going up at all.
“Personally, I think we shouldn’t accept poverty. We shouldn’t accept that people who are in work live in poverty and I think government policy should change, so we don’t have to rely on charities. But I’m only a councillor. I know I have limited power, so what I can do is things like this, which can make a difference on a local level.”
The councillors agree that the council needs more money to tackle poverty locally. Cllr Edwards said: “We’ve already had 50 percent of our budget cut, and we’ve had to take £16.5 million from our budget next year. Government cuts are disproportionately affecting Salford because we have more poverty, so we don’t get much from council tax. We want to help people, but this has a cost, even if it will save money in the long term – but we just don’t have this money.”
Cllr Sharpe said: “It is a long-term problem we are facing with poverty; it is a real societal issue. We have a Salford anti-poverty strategy for people who are really struggling, but it’s not something the council can solve on its own. It needs a real top-down approach from government.
“It is important for the voluntary sector to act as well, because they can reach out to people that we often wouldn’t see, who are scared of approaching us.”
The government’s position is that it is committed to building a stronger, fairer economy and that is why it is improving the welfare system through Universal Credit.
This is designed to help people stay in work longer through the Fuller Working Lives strategy and tackling inequalities in employment as highlighted by the Race Disparity Audit.
Charity Mustard Tree has been operating in Greater Manchester for the past 25 years to help people living in poverty and at risk of homelessness.
Among other initiatives, it acts as a food bank and organises a food club, to help people learn to manage their budget.
The Red Box Project is a national project to fight period poverty, by providing sanitary products and underwear to girls so they do not have to miss school because of their period, even if their family cannot pay for their sanitary products.
The donations made last Saturday will go to one of the local high schools in the Walkden and Little Hulton area which is taking part to the project.