Thousands of people across the country took part in a Unite-organised day of action yesterday (August 2) to stop Universal Credit (UC).
In 63 separate events in England and Wales, campaigners took to the streets to protest the shocking rise of children in families claiming UC going hungry during the holidays because they are not able to receive free school meals.
A Unite survey of more than 1,000 parents claiming UC, published yesterday, found that 79 per cent found it hard to make ends meet during the school holidays.
Nearly 70 per cent of respondents said they skip meals while 41 per cent have to use food banks.
Unite Community North West regional co-ordinator Sheila Coleman said, “The day of action against holiday hunger met with a great response in Liverpool city centre, Manchester and around the region.
“It is shameful that on a sunny summer’s day, children, instead of having days at the seaside, are spending their holidays being fed by charity.
“Food banks, community centres and schools are helping to keep poor children alive. This is in 21st-century Britain, one of the richest countries.”
In Luton, Unite Community volunteers eschewed a public demonstration in favour of continuing their work running morning activities and providing free meals for local children during the summer holidays.
The initiative was set by Unite Community Luton branch chair Jacqui Burnett, who contacted Lee Manor secondary school and was given to permission by the school’s head teacher to run activities there.
‘In work poverty’
Burnett said, “We’ve had between 20 and 30 children and parents attending a day. People are struggling all over but it’s particularly bad in Luton. There’s a lot of in-work poverty and six weeks is a long time to feed a child when before they were getting free school meals.
“Unite’s Luton community and retired branches donated £700 to pay for food and the volunteers have been going everyday preparing mid-morning snacks and lunch for the children.
“The government say they’re doing something but up and down the country more people are attending food banks. UC has been introduced in Luton and things have got worse.
“I’m a school governor and schools have become a fourth emergency service. Teachers are having to deal with issues they never had to deal with before.
“Sitting by and doing nothing means that people go destitute. People have mental breakdowns and families breakup. That why as a branch we decided to try and do something.”
In Greater Manchester, Unite Community activists took a ‘Stop Universal Credit’ convoy on a tour of the area.
Unite Community Greater Manchester branch secretary Jan Pritchard said, “A lot of families are struggling to feed their children, especially those on UC, and when the kids are not in school are having to go to food banks, which are running out (of food).
“UC itself is very complicated. It was brought in to supposedly cover all the other benefits and to make it simpler and fairer but it’s become more complicated and it’s not fair at all – a lot of people are losing out. It should be stopped because it’s causing misery.”