The quiet crisis facing one of Wales’ most disadvantaged areas as universal credit and bills explode


A perfect storm of trouble has swept across the country, on every street a relative or friend struggles to put food on the table for their children, and the situation gets worse.

The problems are clear: Gasoline prices are skyrocketing, food is getting more expensive, NHS wait times are higher than ever, and a shortage of truck drivers has driven fuel prices up.

On top of that, families across the country are coming to terms with a universal credit increase of £ 20 per week being taken away from them. To some it may not seem like much, but to others it is life changing.

Read more:29-year-old single mother terrified of not being able to feed daughter after universal credit cut

Walking through the quiet streets of Bettws on a dreary Saturday morning, the area is almost desolate.

The estate is divided into six neighborhoods, and three of them rank among the poorest nine percent in the country.

According to the Bettws Community Wellbeing Profile, the area has a significantly higher rate of working-age benefit claimants than the Newport average, and in 2017, 40% of residents said they had no qualifications.

Mark Bird reflects well when asked what impact a loss of £ 20 a week will have on his family. He points to his 29-year-old son Alex from the barbers window of the Bettws shopping center, who is in a wheelchair.

Mark Bird and his son Alex Bird at the Bettws shopping center

A desolate Bettws mall on Saturday morning

“He has been in a wheelchair since he had a brain aneurysm at the age of 16,” he said. “It affected everything. He cannot walk and needs help.

“He was a healthy boy. His mother is on Universal Credit and he needed the extra £ 20. This helped with food, heating and transportation so he could go out and do his activities. It’s not fair, I don’t know how the families are going to get away with it. The impact is going to be incredible.

The city worker travels to see his son every weekend and takes him out on a Saturday and Sunday, but says he’s now worried about him.

Bettws, the second most disadvantaged in Newport and one of the poorest in Wales

“The people in power would realize if they were in our situation. I don’t think they understand how bad it is. Even for me as a worker, it costs me a lot more to travel, and yet we are not being helped.

The extra £ 20 per week was introduced as an increase at the start of the pandemic to help claimants benefit from the lockdown, but was removed on Wednesday 6 October.

The move sparked widespread backlash, with Citizens Advice warning that two-thirds of job seekers say they will face hardship, be unable to pay their bills, or have to sell their assets.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the cut, saying there was “no alternative”.

Local councilor and Bettws food bank secretary Janet Cleverly said more families are using the service now. She says food was piled up in her own house waiting to be shared.

Cllr Janet Cleverly said the community spirit at Bettws is the strongest she has seen in a long time

“This week our referrals have increased and we expect a sharp increase in numbers to continue,” she explained. “I know that [the cut] will affect the Bettws estate.

“When you have an increase in your money, you rely on it and then it stops so suddenly. It’s hard.

“The Bettws estate has always been a great area for people to come together. It’s kind of like the old war effort and how we all gelled. We get referrals all the time.

Gem Walker, who helps run Feed Newport CIC, which also covers Bettws, said the pressure on food banks to help people was now at its height.

Mark Baghurst outside his home in Bettws

Mark Baghurst, who also relies on Universal Credit, said it was “not fair to take it from families so suddenly”.

“That £ 20 to a woman with three children is a week’s food,” he said. “£ 80 a month is a lot of money.

“It would be hard. I see a few people around here who have cubs and heard them make comments like that [about difficulties coping with cuts to the benefit].

“They shouldn’t have done it so quickly, it’s not fair not to give more notice to people with children. Maybe it should have gone down to an additional £ 10 per week. I’m sure it’s a shock to people.

The residential streets of Bettws on Saturday morning

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Gem, who spends her weekend at the Newport Food Bank, said: “It’s really scary. I worry about people, especially mentally. We are approaching a really difficult winter.

“We’re getting more and more referrals recently and the majority of those referrals are for families – working class families doing their best.

“When you get that £ 20 it obviously comes into your budget. It is several meals. It’s gas and electricity. People have to choose between putting in money for heating or buying food.

“Parents come here and we know they are going without food because they just can’t afford it. Either way, we were in a bad enough situation and now they are struggling even more. It’s hard to see.

Gem would like to stress that the majority of people who currently use the food bank are not people you would assume vulnerable on the face of it.

“It’s so important that people realize this,” she said. “There is a stigma about going to a food bank and there shouldn’t be. It is imperative if people are struggling for food which they do not see as a weakness. It is important that they come to us and give us a hand.

Shaun Mitchell said he was appalled by the cut.

Shaun Mitchell, who waits outside a store in Bettws, is a full-time roofer. He said he was appalled by the cut.

“It’s just sad, why are we taking money from people in difficulty in this country? ” he said. “Everything is on the rise and yet the government thinks taking £ 20 away from vulnerable people in an increasingly difficult job search society a good idea?” It’s ridiculous.

“I think it could lead to protests. It will lead to anger. There is no confidence of society and our communities in our government now. It creates separation and divisions.

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