How government's budget must address poverty to avoid 'carnage'
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Norfolk and Waveney could be facing a "carnage" of unemployment, deprivation and hunger unless urgent action is taken in the Spring Budget.
This is the warning ahead of chancellor Rishi Sunak's announcement on Wednesday, as he prepares to unveil the latest financial arrangements for the country.
And he has been warned that unless drastic investment is made, the region would teeter on the brink, with the pandemic driving more and more people into poverty.
Rebecca White, the chief executive of Your Own Place, a social enterprise in Norwich geared at helping prevent homelessness, said she fears unemployment and consequently mental health struggles are going to be "the next pandemic", with both areas in need of investment.
She said: "I would not want to compare humans to pennies, but the image I have in my head is of a penny arcade machine. So many people live their lives just on the edge of poverty, but if the high street is not supported we will see more and more people fall off the edge.
"Without proper support to help put businesses in positions where they can not only exist but recruit, it really will be carnage."
She called for an extension to the furlough scheme and incentives for businesses, particularly retailers, to continue.
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More than 750 councillors nationwide have signed a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson and Mr Sunak sent by the National Education Union (NEU) calling for free school meals to be protected in the announcement.
Among those to have signed it is Karen Davis, a Norwich city councillor who also runs the NR2 Foodbank in Norwich.
She said the "most obvious" thing the chancellor could do to address the challenges was to retain the £20 uplift of Universal Credit - worth more than £1,000 per year for anybody claiming it.
And she added that unless more support was given to the retail and hospitality industries, more and more people ran the risk of needing to use the benefits system.
She said: "So many young people are now out of work and it is these people that are disproportionately affected by these industries suffering - as, generally, it is younger people who work in them.
"There also needs to be investment in energy efficiency and improvements made to housing, as so many people are finding themselves having to choose between eating and heating."
She added that the furlough scheme needed to be extended and called for more tax to be placed on alcohol in supermarkets, as another way of supporting the hospitality trade.
She said: "People have become accustomed to not going out and it has got far too cheap to buy alcohol from the supermarket. There is a strong argument to make it more expensive so pubs are more attractive, which will clearly help with employment.
"I also believe free school meals ought to be universal. The uptake of them is surprisingly low against the number of people who qualify for them and partly that is down to pride or embarrassment at needing them. Were they universal, that wouldn't be an issue and every child deserves to eat."
In Great Yarmouth, uptake of foodbank services has increased by around 50pc during the pandemic, with The Rev Matthew Price saying the foodbank has been seeing significantly more families of late.
He said: "Ordinarily, we have tended to help single people and couples more, but the balance has tipped more towards families as of late.
"We have definitely seen the difference the uplift in Universal Credit has made - for people living hand-to-mouth an extra £20 is a lot of money. Were that to be taken away it would have the same impact in the opposite direction."
The NEU letter goes on to call for free school meals to be extended to include any family in receipt of universal credit - some 1.7 million families nationwide.