Bleak situation as Leeds charities are plugging the gaps in society caused by austerity
Leeds charities say they are having to step in and fill the gap left by lack of government intervention as the social inequality crisis deepens with revelations this week that life expectancy is on the decrease, death rates are on the increase and the north south divide gap has widened over the last ten years.
A report, carried out by inequality expert Professor Sir Michael Marmot ten years ago, has been reviewed for 2020 and calls for the Prime Minister to come up with an ambitious and world-leading health inequalities strategy and to set up a special committee to implement it.
In Leeds, the situation has been branded as “bleak” by Dominic Charkin, operations and community projects manager at Zest – a not for profit charity set up in 2002 which aims to address health inequalities and social isolation through activities which improve physical, mental, social and emotional wellbeing.
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In the 10 years since his previous study was published in February 2010 Marmot reveals that life expectancy for women in the most deprived 10 per cent of areas has fallen death rates among those aged 45 to 49 have increased and are being attributed to depths of despair such as suicide, drugs and alcohol abuse.
Child poverty rates are at 22 per cent compared to the low for Europe of 10 per cent and this is attributed to the closure of children and youth centres and cuts to education funding
There is a rise in homelessness, people don’t have enough money to lead a healthy life and there are more ignored communities.
Zest, based at the old fire station in Gipton, was originally set up to serve east Leeds but due to demand works across all parts of the city and puts on events like men’s groups, women only exercise groups, breakfast clubs, parent’s get togethers, cookery sessions and drop-ins to help people with skills and training.
Mr Charkin told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “Undoubtedly the situation in Leeds mirrors what the report says. We know there are more people living in an area that is classed as deprived from 2010 to now.“On top of that, across Leeds, there are 75,000 people in work but in poverty. People are trying to do good for themselves and these are the people we really should care about. They are trying their hardest to make ends meet.
“We have seen an increased demand for our services and talk to any other charity and they will say there is an increased demand. More people are coming back to us because it works.
“We are providing an antidote to the negativity people experience in every-day life.
“We have stepped in but what I would say is that we do things cheaper, move faster but it is not for free. The funding picture has changed dramatically, there is less government funding and more organisations going for a smaller pot – it makes that environment harder.”
However, Mr Charkin said that what had also become apparent since the release of the original Marmot report, is a willingness and more collaborative approach in Leeds between charities and organisations working together to help tackle the city’s social inequality issues.
Last year as part of a special Yorkshire Evening Post series – A City Divided – we visited Harehills, one of the city’s most deprived boroughs and highlighted the work that Zarach does.
It was started by a deputy head at a Leeds primary school after one of her pupils had bed bugs in class.
The charity started providing beds, duvets, pillows and pyjamas to households where the children literally didn’t have them.
One of the most recent referrals from within Leeds was of a family of four children and an adult living in a one bedroomed flat on the 14th floor. The girls shared a single mattress and the boys slept on cushions.
Another one came about a whole family who had been sleeping on the floor for the last six months. The five-year-old girl had back ache as a result and the contact for the charity was the 14-year-old girl who is the registered carer to the mother who has mental health issues.
Back in Harehills where we visited last summer, there were glimmers of hope but largely people feel “nothing has changed”.
Karen Tasker has been a lollipop lady outside the local primary school for 14 years. As she cheerily waved parents and children across the road she says, ‘it is still the same around here love’.
We went back to Bexley Carpets which has been in Harehills nearly 40 years. They said: “They are building a new academy and new houses so that will be different. I would say that is investment but Harehills is a densely populated area so they have to allow for that.
“There have been extensions and more retail shops but nothing changes in the grand scheme of things.”
However, over the road at Harehills Launderette and Dry-cleaners, owner Imran paints a different picture.
He said: “I have been here 15 years and I have seen the changes from a community to people that I don’t recognise. People are afraid to come around here and that is the God’s honest truth.
“It happens time and time again where they watch an area go down and it takes 20 years to pick it back up and regenerate it – why let it go down in the first place?”
When asked why he thought the situation had got worse in the last ten years, Mr Charkin believes it is austerity which in turn has led to a feeling of no hope.
He added: “10 years of austerity has had an impact – and that is not being political. Delving a bit deeper than that, if people live in areas that are classed as deprived and struggling it ruins the hope, aspiration and opportunity.
“If people have little hope, they enter a cycle of despair – there is nothing to look forward to so why bother looking after yourself.
“Yes there has been some investment in infrastructure but very little in health, reduce crime, improve environment, education, empowerment and that really needs the work.”