British charity pledges aid for poor – at home

14th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

For the first time, Save the Children, known for working in crisis-hit hotspots, is distributing money to some 1,000 poorest families in Britain.

LONDON – A British charity known for its work in poverty- and crisis-hit hotspots around the globe is turning its attention closer to home – giving aid to the growing poor in credit-crunched Britain.

Save the Children usually works in places like Zimbabwe, Vietnam and Sierra Leone, but the global downturn has prompted it to focus on a new class of home-grown poor dubbed "FREDs": "Forgotten, Ripped off, Excluded, Debt-ridden".

"Today, Save the Children is helping distribute money to families right on our doorsteps," says Colette Marshall, head of the charity's British operations.

The London-based charity has long raised funds in Britain to help children abroad, with emotional campaigns featuring youngsters in misery and poverty overseas. But it has never before distributed money to people in Britain.

"Families (in Britain) are at a crisis point," Marshall warned.

"There are children whose parents can't afford a proper meal or to fix a boiler without going deep into debt. The financial crisis makes their situation ever bleaker."

Save the Children has launched a programme aimed at helping about 1,000 families, including some of the poorest in the country, who will receive GBP 100 (EUR 110) to GBP 200 each.

The money will help Britain's most impoverished "meet their need for essential items and avoid incurring unmanageable debts", said Helen Dent, the chief executive of Family Action, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) joining the campaign.

Without any savings, Britain's underclass is often reduced to borrowing loans at exorbitant rates, which Family Action denounces as a "poverty premium".

The NGO cited the case of a cooker costing GBP 160 to buy outright but costing more than GBP 400 in instalments to loan companies, which are flourishing thanks to the financial crisis.

"Things stand to get much worse for the fifth of the population already living in poverty," Antonia Bance, from the NGO Oxfam's UK Poverty programme, told AFP.

Oxfam's British arm published a report Wednesday entitled: "Close to home: UK poverty and the economic downturn".

The study found that Britain's poorest were trapped in a downward spiral, with their incomes falling due to unemployment or a reduction in working hours and a rise in the cost of living.

Food prices rose by 11.3 percent in the 12 months to February, while electricity and gas prices were up 22.3 percent.

An estimated 10,000 tenants are going to lose their homes because the owners can no longer afford to pay the mortgage, which, with rents going up, will probably see force them into more expensive accommodation.

The combination of factors has triggered a "perfect storm, impacting on the financial and personal well-being of children and their parents", said Save the Children.

The charity estimates that one person is declared bankrupt every four and a half minutes, adding to a growing army of FREDs in a country which thought it had banished poverty during a credit-fuelled boom which lasted over a decade.

Save the Children admits that the GBP 100 to GBP 200 it will hand to families is only a "drop in the ocean" and is urging the government to do more to tackle the situation when it presents its budget this month.

The charity wants the government to "make sure that benefits or low salaries are adequate to bring up children. It needs to invest GBP 3 billion to meet its 2010 target to end child poverty".

"It is clear that investing money in the poorest is not only vital and urgent for those families, it is necessary for the economy," said Marshall.

Meanwhile Oxfam has drawn up a six-point plan or recommendations, notably demanding an "emergency increase in out-of-work benefits".

"We hear a lot about bankers but not a lot about FREDs," said Bance.

AFP / Expatica

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