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Seeing Red: Turning to Christmas and food bank demand

Seeing Red is my regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. This opinion piece was first published on December 6, 2022.

My thoughts have turned to Christmas. This will be the first Christmas ever in the Constantine household that we celebrate as parents without any children at home! I can honestly say I never thought this day would come. Although I will miss my children, I will enjoy a gently paced day without the additional pressures of cooking and shopping to feed a small army!

I’m not a grinch, but I’m not sending many cards either – instead I’ll be visiting and donating to as many of Ramsgate Advent doors as possible. Indeed, I wonder if Ramsgate is unique in this fantastic nightly event in the run up to Christmas? Along with the excellent lighting display’s on the boats in the harbour, Ramsgate yet again  demonstrates its fantastic community spirit.

To all those involved – a huge thank you for making the festive season so special! Credit must also go to the army of volunteers who work hard to keep our streets clean. The keen green fingered amongst us who keep our parks and public spaces planted and smart. Those that add a lick of paint to our shelters. Those that support our food banks and the Salvation Army. So many Ramsgate residents put themselves out to strive for a better environment for us all.

Thank you – It really does make such a positive difference.

Saturday 3rd of December was ‘small business Saturday,’ and I was fortunate enough to visit some of the many fantastic, independent businesses that we have in Ramsgate. I am always blown away by the extremely high quality of their products, customer service and experiences such as glass fusing, pottery and painting classes etc. These delightful shops wouldn’t be out of place on any London Street or indeed any chic European shopping area. So many of the window displays and interiors are truly gorgeous. I’m urging people to join me and to ‘shop local’ wherever possible, not only because it supports our local businesses, because also because the range and quality of items on offer is absolutely staggering. Use it or lose it – as they say!

But now to other concerning matters. This week I heard from a local food bank that from the moment they opened the doors, they could see that they simply couldn’t meet demand. It’s very worrying to see surging need for food banks right across Thanet. Worrying, and a sad indictment of a Government that is both failing to support people in need, and failing to recognise and deal effectively with the cost of living crisis.

Food and fuel poverty are growing at an alarming rate. According to the most recent data produced by the National Census Thanet is one of the most deprived areas in the Country. It’s certainly the poorest area in Kent. In some of our wards child poverty has risen to an incredible 52%. This is frankly shaming in the 5th/6th richest country on the planet. Our politicians need to take urgent action.

Instead of action and compassion I was furious with our local MP, when I challenged him over the rising tide of poverty on TV recently, he replied:

‘Yes there’s poverty – but is there destitution?’

I could barely believe my ears! He later went on to claim that a single parent with three children was taking home £1800 in Universal Credit payments and £1500 in wages, saying that’s ‘£3,300 free of tax. Only a fraction less than I earn a month.’

Really? I’d love to hear from anyone on UC earning this much. I’m asking Craig to verify this remarkable claim to demonstrate that he isn’t as out of touch as he appears.

Our local MP’s salary is £81,932.04 and he also takes a £2K per month, as payment from his accounting company for 20 hours work per month. Plus regular small earnings and of course, his expenses, including his heating bills are covered, as is his food, also heavily taxpayer subsidised! According to the   Register of Interests for Craig Mackinlay – MPs and Lords – UK Parliament  His annual income is at least £94K. ‘Mythical’ single parent’s income is £39K and allegedly tax free? A fraction less than his own? I don’t think so. (And I’m not a chartered accountant.)

I’m not against people doing well. But at a time when nurses have been offered a miserly 3%, and they, along with many other workers are working hard and long hours, simply to sink deeper into the red each month, and can’t afford to heat and eat, I think a reality check is in order. Remember inflation sky-rocketed before workers sought pay increases!

So please, look out for ‘Advent Doors 2022’ on Facebook, and join in to support our local charities. Give what you can to our food banks – sad to say they need it. Please also shop local, not only because our towns shops are vital and provide us with such great choice, but also because money spent in local businesses stays in the local economy.

Ramsgate really is Ramsgreat, especially at Christmas!