Are healthier lifestyles less achievable for families on a lower income?

This week, the Surrey Mirror asked local politicians to comment on the question: Are healthier lifestyles less achievable for families on a lower income?  Sue Fenton, newly-elected Councillor for Earlswood & Whitebushes, responded:

Former Work & Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith famously claimed he could live on £53 benefits a week, despite shortly after trying to charge taxpayers £39 for just one breakfast. Many guides exist to living frugally, but can the poorest children not just survive, but reach their potential in modern Britain?

The figures, and experts, say otherwise, with UN poverty rapporteurs reporting that the Conservatives are “inflicting great misery” on people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and callous” austerity policies driven by political desire for social re-engineering, rather than economic necessity. Some policies, like fit-to-work assessments, actually cost more to administer than they save, leaving it tough to dispute claims of ‘conscious cruelty’ raised against the government.

Consequently, in the world’s fifth richest country, we see poverty, hunger, homelessness, illness and desperation soaring. 14 million people are living in poverty, and 1.5 million cannot afford basics like food or shelter. Teachers report that children are eating out of bins, and food bank use is rising faster in Surrey than anywhere else nationwide – almost half of packages going to children. Homelessness has more than doubled since 2010, and mental health services, youth and children centres are shutting down nationally and across our county.

While low-income families may be able to strive in small ways for ‘healthier lifestyles’, the question for too many isn’t ‘home-cooked food and gym classes’ versus ‘microwave meal and walking’, but about struggling to survive until next payday, hoping that vital benefits aren’t cut off or unexpected expenses crop up.

The government urgently needs to reverse cuts to councils (which provide lifeline services to millions), end austerity and ensure that nobody goes to bed hungry, cold or on the street in the UK, especially our children. We have the money and knowledge to achieve this – all we currently lack is the political will.

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