Della Reynolds

“I stood as an Independent Candidate in Esher and Walton in 2015 and again in 2017. Politics affects us all, whether we take an interest in it or not. My website Viewfromthesidelines.com gives detailed information on key political issues for Surrey and beyond. Take a look and take an interest, you may be surprised by what you find out.”

Share the love this Christmas in Elmbridge and beyond

Around this time of year we tend to buy a little extra with the weekly shop and put it away for Christmas. During the festival we like to spoil our family with the kind of treats we don’t have all year round; rich, warming foods that set us up for winter. You may be surprised to know that in 2015 an nef study commission by Walton Charity found that 2,300 children live in poverty in Elmbridge.

Relative poverty is measured as 60% below the median household income and the definition is determined as families who cannot afford an ‘ordinary living pattern’. These families struggle in affluent Elmbridge to make ends meet. Housing, to buy or rent is among the most expensive in the UK. Unexpected bills, health issues, and changes to benefits or work patterns can quickly deliver these families into crisis.

There is a foodbank in East Elmbridge with two distribution centres. One is located at Esher Green Baptist Church, 6 Park Road, Esher, KT10 8NP and is open on a Tuesday from 10.00 to 11.00 am.  While the other is held at St Peter’s Church in Walton Road, West Molesey KT8 2QF and is open on a Thursday from 10.00 to 11.00 am.  There are two other foodbanks in Elmbridge, one serving Hersham and Walton and the other serving Cobham.

Generally, the foodbank will provide enough food for three days to tide over a crisis but increasingly, the food bank staff are seeing the same families returning as they struggle to get off the breadline, even though many are in working households. When you have no savings any additional payment will push you into debt. The East Elmbridge foodbanks have collection boxes in Hurst Park Tesco and Waitrose in Esher. They are generally well-stocked with essentials like beans and pasta but find that self-esteem suffers when people are unable to keep themselves and their homes clean. They need more donations of toiletries for men and women, razors, toilet rolls, sanitary products, shower gel, household cleaning items such as washing up liquid and soap powder for washing clothes. The foodbank team described the desperation of a woman unable to send her daughter to school in clean clothes because she didn’t have any soap powder. Also comfort items lift the spirits such as a biscuit with a hot, sweet drink. The food bank is rarely given sugar yet people use this in their tea and coffee and regularly ask for it.  Equally, desserts such as tinned custard, individual steamed puddings, tinned fruit or rice are rarely donated but would be very welcome. The food bank is currently out of pet food which it provides to those who need to feed a beloved pet. In some cases the pet is the only comfort for some who live in isolation.

At Christmas these families cannot afford the rich treats we all enjoy. Aware of the need to reach out at this time the Elmbridge foodbank will be at Tesco at Hurst Park for three days from Thursday 30th November to Saturday 2nd December asking people to donate one Christmas item to the box.  The list below gives an idea of suitable products so perhaps next time you are shopping you can pop one in the box. Just knowing that there are people who care when you are in crisis can be the difference between struggling through and giving up. So let’s spread the love this Christmas and beyond by popping one or two items into the box all year round.

Christmas list: 

Tinned ham • Tinned salmon • Pickle / Mayonnaise • Mince pies • Christmas pudding • Custard • Christmas Cake • Fruit juice (long life) • Soft drinks • Crisps / nuts Thank you!


More from Ethical Surrey:


 

The hidden hunger of Surrey’s expanding food bank service

At a showing of I Daniel Blake at the new Thames radical cinema which meets monthly at the Riverhouse Barn in Walton, I met Bronte Schiltz an active Labour Party member who informed the audience that she volunteers in a local food bank. If you have seen Ken Loach’s award winning film you will recall the powerful scene when the two central characters queue up to use a food bank and the young, single mother opens a tin of baked beans when no-one is looking and scoops them into her mouth to stave off her hunger.

In Surrey they don’t queue round the block to use the food bank so you could be forgiven for thinking this is just an inner-city problem or a regional issue. Here the poverty is largely hidden as the food bank will bag up the groceries for you and deliver them to your door. Bronte recalls the desperate thankfulness of those who are provided with three days emergency food. You can’t just walk in off the street and help yourself. You have to be referred by the job centre, the school, citizen advice bureau, local councillor or GP. One such person was an 80 year old grandfather who informed Bronte that he had a job interview coming up as he needed money to feed his grandchildren. He was hopeful that he wouldn’t need to return and as she went through to the other room to fill some bags with food she found it heart-rending that this proud man had been let down by our welfare system.

When Bronte isn’t helping out at the food bank or working as the publicity officer for Thames Radical Cinema she works as the English Intervention Tutor at Esher Church of England High School where 25% of the children live below the poverty line. She explained that the food bank is essential in the school holidays when the children are unable to access free school meals. She wants to know why Surrey, one of the richest boroughs in the country, has over 34 food banks in operation with more food packages provided every year. When the issue was raised at a local husting in the 2017 election Dominic Raab the MP for Esher and Walton was not in attendance and other audience members felt that the question of food banks was not ‘a local issue’.

They clearly had not read the Inequality in Elmbridge report which contained official figures showing that 2,300 children – 8.7% of those under 16 – in Elmbridge live in poverty (where household income is below 60% of national median earnings).

(Article continues below)


More from Ethical Surrey:


 

In a Guardian article on the subject well-to-do Gareth relates the following experience after becoming “startled” by what happened in his local Tesco at 8pm; “I couldn’t believe what I saw. A large group of people were hovering around the vegetable section. A man came along and reduced all of the food. Then it was a free-for-all and I have never seen anything like it in my life. A cabbage which was probably £1.50 was reduced to 20p and it was a fight to get the food,” he recalls. “I guess these people live in Elmbridge, I don’t know.

Hidden, but growing, the need for food banks continues to rise across Surrey and Bronte confirmed that Surrey food banks gave out more than 14,000 three day food parcels in 2016/17, an increase of almost 20% on the previous year. This situation is likely to become much worse as Universal Credit is rolled out in the run up to Christmas. The Trussell Trust reports a steep rise in areas where Universal Credit has already been implemented and claimants are paid in arrears with six weeks or more delay for the first payment.

According to the Trussell Trust statement; “it’s no surprise that trying to live off so little for an entire month can lead to destitution and hunger. Most households had been unable to afford heating, toiletries or suitable shoes or clothes for the weather. 78% had skipped meals and gone without eating – sometimes for days at a time, often multiple times a year.

Once a household falls into debt it is near impossible to make ends meet and pay off what is owed. When you lose a short-term contract you go back to the start of the process.

In a recent vote, calling for a pause in the roll-out of Universal Credit, Conservative MP’s failed to show up to the House to either defend their policy or to vote. If you don’t turn up for your benefit appointments you get sanctioned and given another six week hold on payments. The Trussell Trust confirms that the three main reasons people use the food banks are benefit delays, low income and benefit changes.

Yet in the run up to the last election Dominic Raab stated on TV that “The typical user of a food bank is not someone that is languishing in poverty, it is someone who has a cash flow problem episodically”.

Bronte described this response as, “ignorant and callous to brush it off as minor or temporary.”  Mr Raab hasn’t written about the use of food banks for his constituency blog since February 2014 where he links to an article he wrote for the Telegraph.  Mr Raab was paid £220 for the article and registered it as 2.5 hours work. Earning £88 per hour in addition to his main salary it must be difficult for him to understand the need for food banks and in his search for a reason he blames global markets, trade barriers and the EU Common Agricultural Policy – everything in fact except government welfare reforms and puts the interfering Bishops in their place with the following statement taken from his article in the Telegraph; “But the bishops’ blunt claim that welfare reform accounts for more than half of those using food banks displays a reckless disregard for the facts, and wilful ignorance of the underlying causes.”

Maybe it is time that Mr Raab took another trip to the food bank in Cobham he opened in 2013 but has failed to attend since. Hugh Bryant, who runs the Cobham Food bank, said: “Although Mr Raab opened our food bank it’s a shame he hasn’t been in touch to check the figures.”

Ken Loach has questioned why the rich are incentivised with bonus packages and perks while the poor are driven by hunger and homelessness. Here’s another pesky member of the clergy, Giles Fraser, writing about his experience of answering his door to an increasing number of destitute parishioners. He argues that Universal Credit was designed to blame the poor for their poverty and force them to accept low pay, poor working conditions and zero hour contracts; “there are those who would characterise this as “workhousing” – that is, deliberately making life so intolerable for poor people that they are forced into doing absolutely anything to keep themselves off the streets“.

Universal Credit stems from pure ideology and has cost more than it has saved. As the millionaires of Westminster increase the levels of poverty across the country they are protected from the reality of life on the breadline with their entitlement to taxpayer perks and second incomes. When they fail to turn up to even defend their policy, just as they failed to turn up to defend their record in the last election it gives off a stench of arrogance. Low paid work with inconsistent hours does not ‘set you free’ in fact the very opposite, it traps you in a cycle of debt and despair as you make daily choices between paying the bills, heating the house or feeding your family; a shocking indictment in 21st Century Britain.

READ MORE

Got an idea for an article? Click here to find out more about writing for us.

How to close a much loved Post Office without a public backlash

If you live in East Molesey you may have noticed that the post office in Walton Road has suddenly closed. I was there shortly after the closure, browsing the newly refurbished display racks and witnessed a number of disappointed people being turned away.  It was a busy post office and one I had come to rely upon, so why the sudden closure?  Rumour has it that it was forced to close following an unfavourable audit. Certainly, the fact that the shop had recently undergone a style makeover would suggest that Meera was not intending to depart so quickly.  There seemed to be an expectation that a new postmaster would take over from the sign on the door, but there is no guarantee and the good folk of Molesey will have to travel to Hurst Park Tesco for the next nearest counter service.

Post Office Counters is the only part of the former General Post Office (GPO) not to be privatised in 2013. Royal Mail and Parcelforce, who together made a profit of £742m in 2016, were sold off at 330p per share rising to 455p the very next day. Effectively, a cash giveaway of £1 billion to the city.  The now private mail service pays out £220 m in dividends to shareholders per annum. Money which previously went to the treasury and could have been used to pay for teachers or nurses now goes into private hands. Post Office Counters was the poor relation left behind. Not making sufficient profit to be of interest to shareholders it has limped along shedding jobs and closing branches in a deliberate ‘slash and burn’ policy according to Dave Ward, General Secretary of CWU.

(Article continues below)


More From Ethical Surrey:


 

The counter service was previously funded by the profits overall and the government knew before the sell-off it could not stand alone without subsidy. But when money is the only thing that matters the government is not minded to consider the cost to the community who have come to rely upon local services. The vast majority of Crown offices have already been closed or franchised; now appearing in a corner of WH Smith or a Costcutter store.  You may feel this is of little consequence provided it is still in your local neighbourhood but should something go wrong you will have no means of recourse against these ‘private’ enterprises who will hide all data behind a veil of ‘commercial confidence’.

Under the cloak of ‘austerity’ and let’s face it more people voted to continue austerity under the Conservatives than to end austerity by voting against them, we are seeing more and more public services placed into private hands. It’s what we voted for so we shouldn’t be surprised. But we’re always taken aback when it’s our personal service which gets the chop. In Surrey we elected eleven Conservative MPs each campaigning on an austerity agenda euphemistically referred to as ‘balancing the books’ yet despite this we expect our own services to go unchanged.

Many in Surrey are in favour of public services being run by private enterprise as they are able to inject funds and bring in efficiencies.  That may be true to some extent but the fundamental difference between public and private is that private work for profit and only for profit; the shareholder is king and unprofitable services are cut. We lose democratic control of our own public services and shareholders replace the public as the primary stakeholders. Public infrastructure and assets, built up over many years is being handed over to the already wealthy and worker’s rights are diminished in the process with many forced to become ‘self-employed’ contractors and join the gig economy, which is often how the private sector saves money.

As we ‘take back control’ on a national level we are losing control of the local services many of us rely on.  Franchised or contracted out to the highest bidder, ironically many of them foreign; public money is converted into private profit.   We go about our business largely oblivious to the fact that our public space, local schools, transport systems, water, electricity, refuse collection, tennis courts and post offices are being taken from the control of democratically elected local councillors and placed into the private marketplace.

In the fullness of time we may come to realise what we have lost under this government backed asset stripping, but the dye has been cast and the old adage, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ may well prove true.  So what is the easiest way to close a much-used local post office without a public backlash? I really shouldn’t be so cynical.

Read More

Got an idea for an article? Click here to find out more about writing for us.

What the deuce! Elmbridge residents call for fair play

There has been something of a hoo-ha brewing in Elmbridge recently. Residents have taken to social media to complain about changes to public services. Smelly bins left un-emptied, was the first issue galvanising the public into complaint. Particularly annoying as this occurred during the June heat wave. Residents took to twitter to berate local councillors.

Earlier this month, Amey, the Spanish owned refuse collectors started their new £100 million joint-waste contract in Elmbridge. Due to be rolled out later in Mole Valley, Surrey Heath and Woking, the residents were promised ‘an improved rubbish and recycling collection service.’ A major advantage of the switch was the proposed £2 million saving per annum and no doubt this would have been a factor in gaining the support of Surrey County Council as the waste disposal authority.

Unfortunately, a series of teething problems left food bins festering in the heat and whole cul-de-sacs abandoned due to the difficulty of negotiating the new vehicles between parked cars. Esher and Walton Conservatives were soon onto the scandal demanding that Elmbridge council ‘get a grip on the current appalling situation’ and laying the blame squarely upon the Lib Dem/Resident Association led council:

“Conservative group leader, Cllr Tim Oliver, is clear that the current service failings smacks of poor forward planning by Amey and a failure of the RA/LD Council to hold the contractor to account.”

But wait a minute, Surrey County Council, which is Tory led were in favour of the plan and at the time of the vote (December 2016) at least 21 of the 48 Councillors were Conservative. Cllr Tim Oliver in fact chaired the meeting with Amey and closed down some pretty relevant questions from other Councillors as you can see on this webcast.

A more recent hoo-ha has been caused by the lock-up of public tennis courts and the necessity for the public to pay a yearly subscription of £36 or a £5 one-off booking fee to play on courts which were previously free. This issue even got Judy Murray riled up as evidently this is Andy Murray’s home borough. £25,000 was pledged from the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to help secure the sites and advertise the new charges. In good Surrey style there was soon a petition raised and a campaign organised to reverse the plan; a campaign apparently supported by Cllr Tim Oliver, Conservative group leader. Once again the accusing finger points firmly at the Lib Dem/Resident Association administration, totally ignoring the fact that the decision was passed unanimously by all 48 Elmbridge councillors, including Cllr Oliver.

tweet - ethical surrey - tennis

Note how Cllr Tim Oliver uses ‘they’ not ‘we’ in his campaign support letter;

“At a time when there has been huge disruption for many of us to the waste collection service over the past few weeks as a result of new contractors they appointed, I think conceding they were wrong to bring in charges would in some small way be a sign that they are actually listening.”

The next upset waiting in the wings is the proposed closure of recycling facilities across Surrey. In an effort to save another £2 million the council is proposing to close four recycling centres and to restrict access to the others to five days a week instead of seven. This will undoubtedly lead to bigger queues at those centres left open and restrictions for vans, trailers and pickups will encourage fly-tipping; a dreadful eye-sore in the leafy Surrey lanes and an expensive clear-up cost for the cash-strapped council.

Still at the ‘consultation’ stage this has yet to cause a major storm but the proposals have not been well received by the concerned citizens of Elmbridge.

So let’s start joining up the dots on these three unpopular changes to the delivery of public services. What they all have in common is the need to save money. Surrey County Council has seen cuts of £170 million from (Conservative) central funding since 2010 and with a further £100 million to save this year the cuts will continue to come until the money has been found.

This is the austerity agenda. The same agenda that 35,071 (43%) people voted for in June 2017 when they elected Dominic Raab to represent them. He has continually voted for cuts to local councils since 2010. Five more years of austerity was the Manifesto promise and heaped onto the seven previous years it will see virtually no group left untouched. Perhaps people thought it wouldn’t be their tennis courts closed or their bins left un-emptied. Perhaps the cuts would all fall elsewhere, after all there is no ‘magic money tree’ so it had to be done.

Unless you are the 26% who voted other than Conservative in 2017, then you are pretty much getting what you voted for. So that’s fair play then. Well, except of course some of the 35,071 won’t be experiencing the pain of the cuts, just the benefits of a low tax, low public service economy. They live in the gated estates in St. George’s Hill and Weybridge. They don’t worry about smelly bins; they pay someone else to do that. Neither do they queue at the recycling centre on a hot Sunday morning in a car packed to the rafters with rotting debris. They may have their own tennis court or at the very least membership of an exclusive club. Not to mention private health insurance and private education. The Conservative driven low tax economy puts money in their pocket with no down-side. These exclusive areas represent a solid voting block which will help to maintain Elmbridge as a safe Tory seat, but they can’t do it alone.

Perhaps things will change as the majority of us come to realise that for every £1 given back in tax breaks we have to find £10 to pay for the things which used to be free. Or go without or course, that’s what the poor people do. As the cuts continue to bite across Surrey Conservative voters may finally start to understand the socialist mantra – ‘for the many, not the few’.

Read More

Got an idea for an article? Click here to find out more about writing for us.