(Photo: Samia Rida)
The Christmas season is now officially underway. I’ve come across Santa three times in the course of officiating at three Christmas fairs last weekend. The first was at St Stephens - round the corner from my old school Notting Hill and Ealing. This was followed by the Ealing 135 festivities at Kingsdown Methodist Church up the road from me and then on Sunday I went to the scene of my old playgroup St Barnabas in Pitshanger Lane where Father Justin stepped in to provide a venue for carols and mince pies when the usual “Light up the Lane” outdoor stage fell through this year. A very good time was had by all concerned.
Yet at each of these three events the charities that were being supported tell a story that is far from being all about Christmas cheer. St Stephens were raising funds for the Ealing Winter Night Churches Shelter (EWNCS) which works across the Ealing borough offering the homeless a bed for the night as the chill sets in throughout a network of churches. The 135 were batting for Ealing Homestart who support families in difficulty. At St Barnabas it was the Pitshanger Community Association (PCA) who were rattling tins for various local charities dealing with social welfare, recreation and leisure
This Tory government’s record on homelessness and rough sleeping is shameful. There are 13 times more hidden homeless people in London than those visibly sleeping rough – as many as 12,500 per night. Even though the government introduced a Homelessness Reduction Bill it doesn't come up with additional funding. Given Ealing’s immensely stretched resources (a central government grant 65% cut by 2019/20) and the housing waiting list of 12,000 we have to be very wary that the bill is not raising false hopes or forcing additional cuts elsewhere.
Figures for child poverty are the highest they’ve ever been since the data was first collected in 1963. Increasingly our children are now reliant on foodbanks – another growth industry under Tory Britain. When the changes to benefits hit and Universal Benefit takes effect in Ealing this Spring more and more will face being forced from their homes. The stories I hear from other MP colleagues from areas picked as pilot boroughs such as neighbouring Hounslow for this disastrous experiment are horrifying. This rolling of six benefits into one was meant to simplify things. Instead it’s made them worse with payments in arrears to add insult to injury, the money to pay for Christmas - one of the most expensive times of the year - will only come weeks after event.
The changes in the budget do nothing to address any of these ills. The stamp duty tinkering will not address the housing crisis that Ealing and London are in the grip of. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies it’ll just push up prices of homes. The recreation and leisure that the PCA support are always the first casualties of school cuts which have been swingeing in Ealing.
As the season of Black Friday and its American orgy of consumerism comes to an end it’s great to celebrate Christmas and all that is good; it’s just a shame that Theresa May’s chaotic government are acting like a bunch of Scrooges.