‘A drop in the ocean’: Birmingham responds to Sunak’s mini budget | Spring Declaration 2022

In the nine years she’s volunteered at Ward End Elim Church’s food bank in Birmingham’s Hodge Hill, Pat Woolridge has never known so many people struggling.

The constituency of East Birmingham has the highest fuel poverty rate in the UK at 27.4%, much higher than the national average of 13.4%, so many were hoping for a lifeline in Rishi Sunak’s spring budget announcement on Wednesday.

“It’s just getting worse and worse, our numbers are rising massively. People have been fighting during the whole pandemic, but now it’s fuel poverty,” she said.

“We have had people who have not had the money to feed their meter and they have no electricity and when they come to us they are really hungry. People do not have money to budget, and benefits do not increase, but everything else is.

“We see, week out, week in, people who are afraid of the future.”

She said the government’s piecemeal approach to tackling problems had little impact. The chancellor’s announcement of an extra £ 500m to the household support fund to help struggling families was “a drop in the ocean”, she said.

Pat Woolridge, a volunteer at a food bank in Hodge Hill.
Pat Woolridge, a volunteer at a food bank in Hodge Hill. Photo: Andrew Fox / The Guardian

Plans like raising the national insurance threshold would have no effect on the poorest in society, she added. “The people we see still do not pay social security and they still do not get enough money to feed their [energy] meters, which are the poorest people at the highest rates. ”

The Labor MP for the constituency, Liam Byrne, said the budget would mean “colder homes for children and pensioners and longer queues for food banks”.

“Rishi Sunak had a choice today about who he should help, and unbelievably he decided to help the richest. Two thirds of the cut in public insurance [will] go to the lucky top half of society, ”he said. “This was simply a budget that did not meet the new challenges of a post-Covid, war-torn global economy and a country still struggling to adapt to Brexit.”

On a busy shopping street in the center of Hodge Hill, rising fuel and food costs were on most people’s minds.

Ali Zaman.
Ali Zaman. Photo: Andrew Fox / The Guardian

“Everything has gone sky high, it’s awful. I do not know how people can afford it. There’s going to be a lot of crime, I think, “said Ali Zaman, 30, a supermarket worker.” Even if you go down to Tesco, the milk has gone up. That’s all. “

He said that although it would help reduce the fuel tax by 5p per. liters, it would not go far enough for people who were really having a hard time. “It’s good to see it, but I do not know how much difference it will make,” he said.

Woolridge also stressed that rising fuel costs would have a huge impact on low-wage earners. “Some people will not even be able to afford to go to work because not enough pay is coming in to heat their homes or fill their cars,” she said.

Linda McGowan, 69, said she and her husband, both retirees, had stopped using their car just as much because of rising fuel prices. She had hoped the spring budget would include measures to increase pensions, but was not surprised that they did not get much of a peek inside.

“I know pensions have gone up in the past, but it wasn’t much,” she said. “We just do not want to be able to control how much we get. We are very worried about that and I think a lot of people are having a really hard time.

“I know the weather is getting warmer, but if you’re retired and you’ve stuck all day and you need to keep warm, where’s the money to come from?”

Back at Elim Church, a queue began to form outside the building shortly before the doors opened at 6 p.m.

One of three divisions of Aston and Nechell’s food bank, it has distributed 197 food packages so far this year, up from 145 in the same period last year, and only expects the numbers to rise when energy price increases hit in April.

“We can only prepare so much. All our food has been donated and we see fewer donations coming because people can no longer afford it, ”she said.

“It seems like there is an interruption between government and reality,” said Keith, another volunteer at the Food Bank. “It’s almost as if they live in their own bubble, they do not see what is actually happening. It needs to be fixed and it needs to be repaired as soon as possible for the sake of the country’s future.”

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