Struggling not scroungers – charity fears Sunderland’s poor are being demonised

Graham Wharton of the Salvation Army, Austin House, Shakespeare Street, Southwick, Sunderland,  who will be taking part in an event about austerity in  Sunderland.

Graham Wharton of the Salvation Army, Austin House, Shakespeare Street, Southwick, Sunderland, who will be taking part in an event about austerity in Sunderland.

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FAMILIES in Wearside living on benefits are in danger of being “demonised” and portrayed as “scroungers”.

That is the view of charity bosses trying to support people struggling to make ends meet in the current economic climate.

The extent of austerity facing Wearsiders was due to be discussed today by politicians and charity leaders.

The TUC’s Austerity Uncovered two-week bus tour arrived in the city to examine the true impact that economic policy is having on families.

The special white and red double-decker Austerity Uncovered bus was due to be stationed at the Green in Southwick until 3.30pm.

Between 2am and 2.30pm, a TUC team will walk to Southwick Salvation Army on Shakespeare Street and speak to community manager Graham Wharton about how residents are being affected by unemployment, benefit cuts and scaled-back local services.

Mr Wharton said: “Unfortunately, people who are on benefits are an easy target and they can be demonised.

“Of course, while there are those out there playing the system, the real picture is far more complex.

“It may be people are promised 16 hours of work but end up getting just eight, which has a massive knock-on effect on their benefits. Or it could be young people are having to rely on benefits while they get work experience they need in order to get a job.

“Everyone, including many professionals, are having to cut back at the minute so it’s important we don’t dismiss people as scroungers because they live slightly more chaotic lives or are not the best at keeping appointments.”

The Salvation Army are currently giving out anywhere between three and 10 food parcels per day as many parents struggle to feed their families.

Mr Wharton added: “We don’t see these as ‘hand-outs’ but rather ‘hand-ups’.

“When people come to us for a food parcel, it helps ensure they are in the system and can be offered other support with issues like childcare and benefits advice.”

Students from Sunderland University were also due to visit the bus to talk about concerns regarding their job prospects and high youth unemployment. They will be joined by Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, who will talk about the effect of cuts on her constituents.

Ms Elliott said: “I’m supporting the TUC campaign in raising awareness of the horrendous problems this Government is causing by their welfare cuts and changes. I am also there to promote the payment of proper wages to hard working people who do a fair day’s work.”

According to the TUC, Wearside workers are, on average, £1,196 worse off due to austerity measures.