HAVE YOUR SAY: POVERTY SPOTLIGHT Is there real 'poverty' in Dorset or has the benefits culture added to the problem? (From Dorset Echo)
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HAVE YOUR SAY: POVERTY SPOTLIGHT Is there real 'poverty' in Dorset or has the benefits culture added to the problem?
OUR articles have provoked a heated debate on poverty, its causes and why there is poverty in such a seemingly affluent part of the country. There is sometimes little sympathy for people on benefits as there is the presumption many drink and smoke and have satellite TV. Many question whether the definition of ‘poverty’ in this country is correct. Most people’s perception of poverty is Third World poverty where children do not have enough to eat and no schooling.
High rent prices, hefty fuel bills and widespread economic woe are said to be forcing more people in Dorset below the poverty line.
While many hard-working people suddenly find themselves struggling after losing their jobs, some Echo readers claim that real ‘poverty’ only exists in developing countries.
Local groups and agencies say poverty is a serious issue with increasing numbers seeking help for financial hardship, with many more visiting local food banks.
While some claim ‘poverty’ does not exist in the area, action group leaders explain that is a complex phenomenon in the UK, with many social and political factors.
Poverty is about not having enough money to meet basic needs including food, clothing and shelter caused by unemployment, low paid work and inadequate benefits.
Today, it further means a lack of resources, power, education and adequate housing.
Weymouth and Portland Borough councillor Rachel Rogers, pictured right, who represents Littlemoor, said poverty is an issue in the area due to the lack of secure, well-paid jobs alongside below average wages and above average rental prices.
She slammed the attitude of some Dorset residents who claim poverty is not an issue.
“Instead of criticising people and blaming them for their own poverty we need to look at why it is happening,” she said.
“The South West has above average rental prices and below average wages.
“The council has done nothing to increase economical development in the area and have made matters worse by voting to make lowest income earners pay council tax.”
She added: “People who do not have any money and are now claiming benefits may not have always been in that situation.
“They may have purchased TVs and other items while they were working before their situations suddenly changed.”
Christine Savage, 78, of Dorchester, said: “There is no such thing as poverty in this country.
“I have children and worked part time for 35 years.
“I saved every penny and I have never had any benefits.
“These young people need to meet up with the old age pensioners and learn a thing or two about how to save and take care of their money by working hard.”
Borough councillor Ian Bruce, pictured above right, said people need to take responsibility for their financial situations and prioritise rent and bills.
He said the Conservative Party is trying to ‘build ladders’ to help people climb out of poverty.
He said: “I was made redundant, I started a small business, and I lived on my savings and very little for several years while I got to the point where I could pay myself again.
“So if anybody thinks I don’t know what it’s like and how difficult it is, I do.”
He urged anyone struggling not to ‘bury their head in the sand’ and seek advice.
“People don’t ask for advice early enough in some cases.
“Don’t put your head in the sand, and when you do need housing benefit, make sure you spend it on rent.
He added: “People do genuinely get themselves into real problems and the last thing I would try to say to somebody is that there’s no problem. But at the end of the day, you do have to work yourself out of it.”
Rosemary Britten, president of First Dorset Credit Union, said poverty was measured on a ‘spectrum’.
She said: “Issues of poverty exist for a number of reasons including family and school failings to teach children how to handle their money, along with political attitudes.
“We are living in a generation who are expectant of what the government can do for them and many feel they are entitled to something.”
The team at First Dorset Credit Union, which is made up of volunteers, said they are part of the ‘solution’ to the issue of poverty, which is most prominent in Weymouth.
They have had 50 per cent more loan applications in May, June and July compared to the same period last year.
Member numbers have risen from 1,865 on September 30, 2009, to 2,012 on the same day in 2012, while a total of 159 more loans were made last year.
Ms Britten added: “The problem with a place like Dorset is there is great wealth in places and people generally look to the county with this view.
“We have 14 service points across the county with Weymouth experiencing the most need.
“We can help people, by giving them small loans and advising them to budget their finances.
“We only give people loans if it makes their life easier and they can afford the repayments.
“If this is not the case we refer them to the CAB office. “ The main aim of the credit union is to encourage its members to get into the habit of saving and to give out affordable loans.
Juggling three children, job and spiralling costs
YOUNG mum Alex Emery has spoken out about her financial struggles.
The mother-of-three, of Dorchester, joined First Dorset Credit Union in March 2010 as she needed a loan to pay nursery fees so she could go to work.
She said: “We do not face the difficulties of those in the Third World but life is still a struggle and poverty is relative to each individual person’s situation.
“Wherever you live and whatever circumstances you are in, there are always going to be some people who find it hard to manage a good standard of living where they are.
“You only have to look at all the food banks that are cropping up all over the place to help families that can’t afford to feed themselves – let alone clothe and give their families additional opportunities.
“Life is still difficult for middle class people who work full time and struggle to get by with rising costs.”
As a member of FDCU Alex has her child benefit paid to the Credit Union and puts a small sum to savings, pays her loan and the remainder is kept in a separate account for when she needs money and the FDCU can transfer it to her bank account.
She works as a check-out assistant at Waitrose in Dorchester and continues to juggle life with her partner Sean Best, who works as a manager full-time in Poole, and children Sebastian, three, Ella, four and two-year-old Poppy.
‘We need welfare system that really helps parents’
CHILD poverty is a major problem in the UK, says chief executive of The Children’s Society Matthew Reed.
He spoke to the Echo during a recent visit to Waves, the Weymouth branch of the charity.
He says child poverty needs to be tackled through health and education systems or the problem will continue to worsen.
He said: “In the UK, child poverty is a major problem and the problem is getting worse.
“Figures from central government show us that in the coming years more children will be living in poverty, seeing an increase of 600,000 over the next few years.”
He added: “This would see an increase to one in three children living in poverty.
“The effects of that on children’s lives is enormous. Children experiencing poverty feel the impact on their education as well as long-term affects on their health and therefore their future employment.
“This in turn affects social mobility and the wider economy.”
He added: “The solution is the opposite of what the current government are doing.
“We need a benefit and welfare system that supports children and parents properly and it is not linked to party politics.
“The children we deal with know they do not have the opportunities of others and they are often stigmatised.
“We need to work together to help move children out of poverty through education and health.”
The Children’s Society helps turn lives around with care, respite, legal support and mentoring schemes.
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