Burnley has one of the largest proportions of adults on universal credit in the country. About one in five adults of working age in Burnley depend on universal credit Burnley had registered the highest rate of infection in England, something partly traced to its high levels of poverty and overcrowded housing. Two years ago the town elected its first Conservative MP in more than 100 years.
Pastor Mick Fleming who runs the Church on the Street that operates a food bank, advice on benefits plus help with homelessness and addiction, explains, “There’s still the need for food, but the big issue is people’s mental health. That’s spiralled out of control. The lack of resource, and the lack of hope because of that – you get more suicides.” He has also seen an increase in alcoholism. “That’s due to the pandemic. Many, many people have lost money and relationships and businesses because of Covid. And the timeframe between when help’s needed and when people might get it – in that gap, people die. That’s something we see more of.”
In regard to the cuts in the Universal Credit, Pastor Fleming pointed out, “I’ve seen an increase in fear. People are like: ‘How am I going to manage without this money?’ Again, it’s to do with mental health. Anxiety. It’s real, real stuff. It’s not just taking 20 quid off somebody. And 40% of the people getting the money taken away are working. So it’s people who work as carers asking me for food parcels. Paid workers who are looking after people, needing access to food.”