Last Thursday morning I had just gotten into town to start work. I was about to stop off at my local Greggs, it was the only place open and I wanted some breakfast. I was tired but not starving, unlike the vulnerable women who stopped me on the way.
She can’t have been much older than me, (late 20s) and it was about 6 when I last checked. I didn’t catch her name but she was well-spoken and polite but above all, just really hungry. She explained that her and her partner hadn’t eaten for a couple of days or slept. I’m an empathetic person and will go out of my way to help anyone in need. So please don’t take this the wrong way, but normally when approached by a homeless person I tend to get very wary. I’m a young women and don’t want to put myself in unnecessary danger. After all, they are strangers.
But there was something about this girl … so I didn’t pause to think, I just said ‘yes’. It was that easy. I felt this urge to help. I don’t know her back story, and out of respect I won’t repeat everything she told me. All I know is that she was hungry and cold. Her and her partner had been starving for days and I was the first person who had actually agreed to help them. It doesn’t take much, it was a couple of minutes of my time and lovely to know I had satisfied a basic human need and arguably right.
In the UK there are now approximately 320,000 homeless people. Each year local councils do counts and numbers are rising fast. Homelessness is something that can happen for a number of reasons; unemployment, family/relationship breakdowns, mental and physical health issues and addiction. I’ve watched many documentaries about homelessness. One repeated theme was perception. Homeless people said they often felt inferior, as though they were less than human. Or, ‘normal’ people walk past and brush the homeless under the carpet. We need to realise that these helpless individuals were once like us. They probably had homes and jobs, even some security. We also need to remember it could easily be us. If you lost your job, you too could end up on the streets, begging because you have nothing. As a country, we need to put ourselves in their shoes and do everything we can to help. At the end of the day, we are no better than those on the streets. We are all human beings that deserve food in our stomachs and a bed to sleep in.
Since 2008’s credit crunch, Britain’s economy has gone from bad to worse. We are arguably in a Charles Dickens novel. One in five people in the UK are living in poverty and an estimated 1.2 million have been relying on food banks. The divide between rich and poor is steadily getting wider. Last week, on South Today — my local news, I heard a story of hygiene poverty. They reported: ‘more than half of those who use food banks cannot afford basic toiletries’, according to the trust running a network of facilities in Wales. The Trussell Trust said it had seen a 13 per cent rise in the use of its food banks in Wales in the last six months, compared with the same period last year. It has seen the charity Beauty Banks step-in to assist some of those who cannot pay for hygiene and beauty products. One such person was 18-year-old Shannon Chittendon from Cardiff, who said: ‘hygiene poverty was not just a cause of embarrassment — it was a trigger for her mental health problems’.
As a country we need to stand together and fix the growing wealth divide. The Government needs to put more resources into helping impoverished people. In 2012, Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud introduced a new act called the Welfare Reform. Their aim was to provide provision through: universal credit and personal independence payment for tax credit and social security, as well as more support for registration services, child support and the use of job centres. This was in order to establish social mobility and the Child Poverty Commission.
However, since the act was passed, there have been significant issues regarding universal credit. This benefit was put in place to support vulnerable and needy individuals, but there have been numerous cases demonstrating its failures. Individuals were provided benefits, with some of that money needing to go towards rent. But with missed payments and personal issues, some people were forcibly made homeless through evictions. Fortunately, this issue has finally been fixed and landlords will now be paid directly from universal credit. Sadly, this is not the end of the story. Many people are still destitute and facing a tough year.
Hopefully, more charitable services will become available. Most importantly though, we need to address each person’s situation individually and give them the help they actually need to get themselves back on their feet.