CASH-strapped Solihull residents are going hungry so they can pay off their debts, Solihull Citizens Advice Bureau has revealed.
The bureau, which dealt with 45,000 inquiries last year, said that the recession had plunged many into poverty and, in some cases, locals are unable to even afford to feed themselves.
The organisation is doling out food parcels to desperate clients every couple of days, where once they’d be giving out one a year. One man who came for advice told the team he’d lost two stone in weight while trying to pay off the mounting pile of bills and demands.
Kerry Turner, who oversees the CABs in Solihull, Shirley and Chelmsley Wood, urged people in difficulties to seek advice as soon as possible.
“It’s scary to think that in an area with an affluent reputation like Solihull that the Helping Hands charity [which provides food to the vulnerable] handed out 78,000 items last year,” she said. “It’s imperative that people come to us earlier, rather than wait until it’s too late.”
In 2012, staff and volunteers helped 14000 individuals grappling with issues such as debt, redundancy and benefit cuts.
And at least 1600 people will be hit by the ‘bedroom tax’, which from April will see support slashed for tenants who live in properties with unused rooms.
Daniel Knight, CAB’s social policy officer, said:
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“There are around 1000 people with Solihull Community Housing who will be affected, 600 with housing associations and an unknown number with private landlords. In some cases, the changes will mean that a tenant will only have £40 a week to pay food, clothes and energy bills.
“Our fear is that if people end up going into arrears and are at risk of losing their home, that there will be no way to find them something else as there are already thousands on Solihull’s housing waiting list.”
And it’s not just council tenants who are struggling to survive in difficult economic conditions, with an unspoken struggle growing in the suburbs.
“We’ve also heard stories from Age UK of pensioners who live in five-bedroom homes and can only afford to heat one room,” added Kerry.
“They may still have a fancy car on the drive and to all appearances are enjoying the same lifestyle as before, but when they go in and shut the door it’s an entirely different story. We need those people to come to us too.”
The Solihull News will be working in partnership with the CAB over the months to highlight some of the difficulties facing residents and who they can go to for help.
Solihull MP Lorely Burt said that while unemployment in the borough was falling, it was dangerous to make assumptions about deprivation.
“It’d be wrong to think that in affluent areas that everyone is fine and dandy,” she said. “I would just stress that if you get into difficulty there’s no ashame in accepting the help available.”
And Meriden MP Caroline Spelman praised Solihull Council for increasing funding to Citizen’s Advice services.
“At a time when so many local authorities have cut funding, it’s great to see an extra five per cent in anticipation of an increase in inquiries.”
Call Citizens Advice Solihull Borough; (Chelmsley office) 0121 779 6707, (Shirley office) 0121 744 3238 and (Solihull office) 0121 705 2212 or www.casb.org.uk for more information.
Caption: Social policy officer Daniel Knight, chief executive Kerry Turner and advice services manager Kiran Bram outside Solihull Citizen’s Advice, in Church Hill Road.