One of the best things about our work with Ajaz.org is that it brings us into contact with a community of people working hard to support, encourage and provide for others who are going through difficult times. One of them, Little Village, helps families with children aged 0-5 who need help with baby and children supplies. When we visited the Roehampton site to volunteer and sort donations into packages for families, the scale of the need and the reality of the pressure of poverty was only too clear. Before going to Little Village, these challenges in contemporary London were largely unfamiliar to me, even though my family was very poor when I was younger. Roehampton is one site that Little Village operates – and it sits in an eco-system of services, like Foodbanks, for people struggling to make ends meet. Many families the team from Little Village encounter are socially isolated and do not know about other resources open to them – a gap Little Village is trying to fill.
The stark reality is that for the most vulnerable families among us, times are already hard – and the pressure is building. As the nights draw in, the financial reality for so many of the people around us is getting harder and harder. The cut to Universal Credit – which for a single person represents a 21% reduction in income, the increase in gas and electricity bills leading many to the choice of eating or heating, the impending increase in national insurance contributions, rising food and fuel costs are all bearing down on hard pressed families. With families on the edge, it just takes one thing to go wrong, for debts to spiral out of control as parents lose the battle to make the ends meet.
While for some of us, the increases mean a slight cutting down or no change at all, for others, the situation is dire and getting steadily worse. The Independent recently reported growing concerns in the Foodbank movement about an anticipated major surge in demand for support. We are all increasingly aware of the scourge of domestic violence and how it increased during lockdown. As domestic budgets become even tighter, the chances are this will rise again, placing even more women and children, at risk.
As families are squeezed, spending decisions will be reviewed everywhere across the UK. This will include charitable donations made by individuals– in cash and kind. Our view at Ajaz.org is that we “share the luck” we have – for that is what it is. We are lucky to be in the position we are in – and have each drawn on the benefits of supportive families and inspirational parents, helpful teachers, maintenance grants for university in the old days, getting on the property ladder when it was still possible to do this without having to rely on “the bank of Mum and Dad” – things like this. While we may have worked hard, the success we may have had is not so much down to our own merit – but ultimately through the luck of where and when we were born.
It is on us to think about what we can do to play our part as the Winter closes in and we encourage any readers to think too, how they might reach out locally to help others - whether it is putting in a volunteering shift here or there or adding a few extra things to a shopping trolley to donate to the local foodbank. Every act of support matters. The simple act of solidarity with our neighbours and local communities is a powerful statement of intent. It means we recognise we are not alone, that it is not everyone for themselves - but rather, everyone alongside each other, to walk through the Winter that lies ahead. We will be thinking about our grants programme in the weeks to come and how we can play our part quickly and effectively, to reach those children and families in serious need.