Poverty in Cheltenham: Time to talk

Our new candidate for Up Hatherley, Dr Jermaine Ravalier, discusses poverty in the UK and how it touches our lives in Cheltenham in his first post on the Cheltenham Lib Dem blog.

It’s time to talk about people living in poverty. Poverty in the UK, and poverty in Cheltenham more specifically.

Before the COVID pandemic, Cheltenham Borough Council (CBC) found that over 4,000 children and young people in the town are growing up in poverty, with over 40% of young people in some parts living in poverty.

However, despite work that CBC has put in place to support those in poverty, it is becoming increasingly clear that Conservative government cuts are leaving more and more families in poverty.

Last year the Trussell Trust foodbank in Cheltenham gave out over 2,700 emergency food parcels to families in need. Earlier this year, the lack of funding for Cheltonians was
highlighted in that Mayor Roger Whyborn had to raise money to support our local foodbanks.

So, not only do many of our friends and neighbours have to rely on food banks because of the Conservatives, those very same food banks do not have enough money to help feed
those who need it.

In the UK more widely it is estimated that 9 out of every 30 children in any class are living in poverty. And before arguments about the ‘work-shy’ begin, 72% of children living in poverty have at least one working parent in their household. There are 600,000 more children living in poverty now than when the Conservatives came into power – and this is before the effects of COVID hit the economy.

Since the Conservatives came into government, they have drastically cut services – in Cheltenham and the rest of the country – which sought to support the poorest among us. Sure start, libraries (773 closed since 2010), universal credit, and drastically reduced support for charities – all have meant increases in poverty and reduced ability to move out of poverty (i.e. poorer social mobility).

The effects of poverty can be seen widely – it’s not just about being able to eat, clothe ourselves, and heat our homes. In Cheltenham, there is a huge difference in school grades achieved between those on Free School Meals and their peers. It took a social media campaign by a 22-year-old footballer just to get this government to agree that the poorest children in Cheltenham and beyond should be allowed to eat over the summer, with a number of Conservative MPs blaming parents for their children’s food poverty (remember: most are working).

Poverty affects health (physical and mental) and how well students and adults do in education, among many things. This government – and this Conservative Cheltenham MP – is responsible for more children and families entering into – and staying in – poverty.


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The use of that word and related statements were completely unacceptable, and I immediately received a number of complaints from fellow Lib Dem councillors. I spoke to Dennis on Monday evening and discussed the incident in detail. Dennis has subsequently issued an apology.

While I accept that Dennis did not set out to cause offence, that in itself is not enough to excuse the use of such language, and as Liberal Democrats we expect our members and councillors to behave with the utmost sensitivity to racial and cultural issues.

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