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UK cost-of-living crisis pushes mothers to the brink

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UK cost-of-living crisis pushes mothers to the brink

At an east London church on a bitterly cold winter’s day, Beautine Wester-Okiya picks her way through boxes of donated baby clothes, toys and other assorted items destined for local people battered by the UK’s cost-of-living crisis.

It’s the frontline of something the special needs nurse could never have imagined before — dire poverty in a developed Western nation.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life here in the UK,” Wester-Okiya, who came to Britain 40 years ago from Malaysia, told AFP.

It’s a similar story of economic hardship 140 kilometres north (85 miles) north in the central English city of Coventry.

In a huge warehouse, employees of the charity Feed the Hungry pack emergency food supplies not just for children in Nicaragua, Ukraine and Africa but also families just a few miles down the road.

Britain is in the midst of the biggest surge in prices in decades, from fuel and heating to food and housing costs.

The crisis has put food banks that have already become a feature of modern British life under even greater pressure, prompting a drive to branch out into offering other services from baby clothes to help applying for welfare payments.

‘Suicidal mums’

“We have suicidal mums… we have kids who just managed to come through the pandemic only to find this terrible cost-of-living crisis,” said Wester-Okiya.

“Broken mums, broken homes, broken families. The mums are depressed, the kids are crying all the time.”

For the past two-and-a-half years the Hackney Children & Baby Bank has been flat out coordinating help for the needy.

Set up during the pandemic, it has repeatedly swung into action to deal with crisis after crisis, from migrants who have arrived in small boats with nothing to homeless Afghans and Ukrainians.

But many of those in need of help now are people from the UK who’ve never before faced such economic pain.

“We’re no longer talking of just migrants, we are talking of middle-class people having to sell their house, people like teachers,” said Wester-Okiya.

Faced with a constantly growing crisis — the UK now has more than 2,500 food banks — the baby bank has expanded its operations to include older children too.

Toiletries are in particularly high demand.

“One teen, 14 years old, wrote a terrible poem about how she’s bullied because she’s not able to wash,” said Wester-Okiya, adding how the girl described her mother cutting a bar of soap into four and giving each family member a small piece.

Next meal

In Coventry, a city once home to a thriving car manufacturing industry, the “crazy” cost of everything has led single mother-of-four Hannah Simpson to visit a food bank for the first time.

Simpson, 29, whose youngest is just 12 months old, has been skipping meals to make sure her children can eat.

But that has inevitably taken its toll, leaving her feeling “tired and drained”.

“I try and hide my struggles from them… but my daughter did say to school the other day, ‘I’m worried because mummy hasn’t been eating dinner with us and there’s not enough food to go round’,” she said.

“It’s a lot of stress. I’ve got four children, I’ve got to manage, keep on top of and I’ve got to worry where I’m going to get our next meal from.”

A 50-year-old woman who gave her name as Tracy said the food bank has been a “lifesaver” since she began coming in November.

“My cupboards were completely bare, I’ve been having one meal a day, just waiting until my tea every day,” she said.

Faced with a crisis that is only getting worse, Feed the Hungry, which runs Coventry’s 14 food banks as well as its international operation, has launched a range of projects aimed at helping people to cope long term.

A project to teach people to cook and make the best of what they have available is under development.

‘Sold everything’

A “Pathfinder” project offers people the chance to buy food worth £25 ($30) for a small fee, giving them back some choice and “dignity” while at the same time offering them help to access grants and unclaimed welfare payments.

“It’s working, the only issue that we have is that demand far outstrips what we can actually deliver,” said project manager Hugh McNeill.

People who come through the charity’s doors have “no financial resilience whatsoever, they’ve borrowed and they’ve sold everything they’ve got”, he added.

“You can go right round the country and it’s exactly the same in every city and every town.”

For Wester-Okiya, hopes of building resilience are a long way off.

“My phone never stops,” she said, waving a smartphone buzzing constantly with messages and pleas for help.

“I’ve lived here for 40 years and as a nurse I interact a lot with families but last year was terrible and I fear for the next three months.”

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White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

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White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

 The African National Congress and its largest rival, the white-led, pro-business Democratic Alliance, agreed on Friday to work together in South Africa’s new government of national unity, a step change after 30 years of ANC majority rule.

Once unthinkable, the deal between two sharply antagonistic parties is the most momentous political shift in South Africa since Nelson Mandela led the ANC to victory in the 1994 elections that marked the end of apartheid.

“Today, South Africa is a better country than it was yesterday. For the first time since 1994, we’ve embarked on a peaceful and democratic transfer of power to a new government that will be different from the previous one,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said in a televised address.

“From today, the DA will co-govern the Republic of South Africa in a spirit of unity and collaboration,” he said, adding that multi-party government was the “new normal”.

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The ANC lost its majority for the first time in an election on May 29 and has spent two weeks locked in intensive behind-the-scenes talks with other parties, which came down to the wire on Friday morning as the new parliament was convening.

The DA’s entry into national government is a big moment for a country still processing the legacy of the racist colonial and apartheid regimes. The party has struggled to shake off its image as a defender of rich white people and convince a broad spectrum of South Africans that it reflects their aspirations.

Two smaller parties, the socially conservative Inkatha Freedom Party and the right-wing Patriotic Alliance, will also take part in the unity government, they said. 

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Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

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Hamas' armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

Hamas’ armed wing al-Qassam Brigades said on Friday that two Israeli hostages held in Gaza were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Rafah a few days ago.

The group, in a video posted on its Telegram channel, did not release the names of those said to have been killed or provide any evidence.

The Israeli government “does not want your hostages to return, except in coffins,” the al-Qassam Brigades statement said.

Israel rescued four hostages held by Hamas in a hostage-freeing operation in central Gaza’s al-Nuseirat on June 8. The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said more than 250 Palestinians were killed in the raid.

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The war in Gaza erupted when Hamas militants stormed southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. 

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US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

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US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

A Canadian navy patrol ship sailed into Havana early on Friday, just hours after the United States announced a fast-attack submarine had docked at its Guantanamo naval base on Cuba, both vessels on the heels of Russian warships that arrived on the island earlier this week.

The confluence of Russian, Canadian and U.S. vessels in Cuba – a Communist-ruled island nation just 160 km (100 miles) from Florida – served up a reminder of old Cold War tensions and of current fraught ties between Russia and Western nations over the Ukraine war.

However, both the U.S. and Cuba have said the Russian warships pose no threat to the region. Russia has also characterized the arrival of its warships in allied Cuba as routine.

The Admiral Gorshkov frigate and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, half submerged with its crew on deck, sailed into Havana harbor on Wednesday after conducting “high-precision missile weapons” training in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Canada`s Margaret Brooke patrol vessel began maneuvers early on Friday to enter Havana harbor, part of what the Canadian Joint Operations Command called “a port visit…in recognition of the long-standing bilateral relationship between Canada and Cuba.”

A Canadian diplomat characterized the Margaret Brooke`s arrival as “routine and part of long-standing cooperation between our two countries”, adding it was “unrelated to the presence of the Russian ships.”

Russia and Cuba were close allies under the former Soviet Union and tensions with Washington over Communism in its “backyard” peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Moscow, which has maintained ties with Havana, has questioned the apparent nervousness of the West over the warships this week. 

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