People’s confidence and mental health at low ebb amid cost-of-living crisis, warn Camden charity bosses

Angela Mason of Camden Women’s Forum. Photograph: Julia Gregory

People’s confidence is being knocked as they suffer the impacts of hygiene poverty worries as the cost-of-living crisis bites hard, according to charity bosses in Camden.

Charities warned the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis are already causing real suffering and warned it brings a mental health cost too.

The council heard from charities and teachers in a themed debate about the crisis.

It comes as the council announced it is spending £300,000 to help 25 schools start breakfast clubs and £175,000 to make council houses more energy efficient.

The money comes from the profits made by selling fuel from the North London Waste which Camden owns with six other councils.

More than 25,000 people in Camden are on low incomes and nearly 40 per cent of children are living in poverty. There have been 1,200 applications for help from the council’s £2m cost of living crisis fund.

Kate Moon from Little Village baby bank described how one child suffered pressure sores because their family was running out of nappies.

She told councillors people are reusing nappies and sanitary towels because of the cost of living crisis.

“There is a real increase in hygiene poverty,” she explained.

Angela Mason from Camden Women’s Forum said: “Women have been described as the shock absorbers of the  crisis as they’re most responsible for food shopping, buying clothes, making the budget stretch. Yet they rarely have equal access to work and pay and have to rely on the child care system which is one of the most expensive.”

She said school uniform costs also posed a headache and called for an extension of free school meals so families did not have to worry about the cost of lunch.

Helen Connor, the head teacher of  Rhyl Primary School in Kentish Town said the crisis “is only going to get worse as the winter continues and the full impact hits.”

“We’ve got parents who say they are scared to put the heating on and they’ve asked if they can come to school to sit in the warm during the school day.”

She added: “Children are coming to school increasingly with inadequate clothing and not enough to eat for lunch.”

The school is stepping in to give them food and runs a breakfast club Ms Connor said there was a noticeable decrease in school meal take up as families can’t afford the cost.

“That is the only hot meal for some children and that is increasingly concerning that families cannot afford to pay for a school meal if they are not entitled to a free school meal,” she told politicians.

Ms Connor called for every child to get a school meal.

“For every primary school child and secondary school child to have free school meals would make a significant difference. It would mean that children are not hungry.”

She warned “It’s going to be a poverty and mental health crisis that’s going to impact on our children for many years to come.”

Councillors were concerned that people might try other ways to make ends meet in their desperation.

Rachel B  who runs outreach at Hawley Amateur Boxing Club in Kentish Town said “we are seeing people coming to the gym just so they can take a shower.”

She added that hygiene poverty is “affecting children’s confidence quite a lot. We often think of food banks at times of crisis like this but actually the  real hygiene povery at this moment as well.”

The club is providing shampoos, shower gels, soap and toothbrushes and toothpaste to people and hopes to extend it but needs funds to help.

She called on companies to donate products and stressed  how hygiene proverty is hitting people’s “self confidence and self worth”.

Other speakers reported how hygiene poverty is hitting hard.

Judy Whalley, from Camden Citizens Advice said there has been an increase in calls for advice and more complex problems.

“After the pandemic we are finding people who have previously managed are now in difficulties and many of these are working.”

These include people using food banks and struggling with mortgage payments and debt.

By early September they dealt with as many queries abut energy bills as the whole of last year.

Meghan Roach,  from New Horizons Youth Centre which works with young people at risk of homelessness said “so many people are struggling to meet their own basic needs”.

The centre has set up its own food bank and running workshops to help people with their finances.

She added the crisis is hitting young people’s financial resilience as “they are less likely to have savings” which puts them at risk of homelessness.

Alet Madhang, Healthy Beginnings reported how the team are working to help families make healthy meals and boost their confidence and added her voice to the call for free school meals for all primary school pupils.

Jonathan Simpson, who chairs the licensing committee wanted to know if people are turning to gambling in the hopes this might change their fortunes.

Richard Olszewski, the Cabinet member for finance and cost of living also warned people to avoid borrowing money at high interest rates from loan sharks.

He said money advice is available at the Warm Spaces set up by the council.

Camden Citizens’ Advice team  is also providing money advice at Euston’s food bank in Phoenix Street.

Cllr Olszewski said “we heard agonising tales of what people are experiencing” at a recent cost-of-living summit but also the ” a fantastic energy and  determination” to tackle the  problems.

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