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Camden primary teachers bring food into classes to feed hungry pupils hit by benefit cuts

Monika Caro outside the Royal Free Hospital, where a food bank donation point has been set up for needy families. Picture: Nigel Sutton Monika Caro outside the Royal Free Hospital, where a food bank donation point has been set up for needy families. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Thursday, September 19, 2013
8:00 AM

Camden primary teachers are taking food into schools to feed hungry pupils and a “Comic Relief-style” food bank has been set up at the Royal Free Hospital, as the borough’s poorest go hungry due to government benefit cuts.

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Hampstead resident Monika Caro, who has campaigned against the controversial benefit changes, said a number of Camden primary teachers are so concerned about hungry five to seven-year-olds in their classes that they take in their own food from home to feed them.

Ms Caro, vice-chair of Camden Association of Street Properties, said the desperate reality of life for some in Camden was reinforced by the discovery of a stall at the Royal Free Hospital asking the public to donate food to residents affected by the benefit cuts.

She said: “I thought, ‘Oh my god, if the Royal Free is now making a Comic Relief-style appeal for food then surely the government can hear that things are really desperate.’ I voted for the Conservatives and I wish I never had.

“It’s like living in Robin Hood times, they are taking from the poor to give to the rich.”

The volunteer and carer has worked alongside prominent Camden benefit cuts campaigner Petra Dando to make the plight of the borough’s most vulnerable public.

The total benefit cap was introduced in Camden last month and under the regulations no household can receive more than £500 per week in welfare payments.

The government also introduced changes in April, dubbed the ‘bedroom tax’, which penalise residents with spare rooms in council houses by cutting their benefits by between 14 and 25 per cent.

The bedroom tax is aimed at encouraging people with spare rooms to downsize to free up large homes.

But Highgate councillor Sally Gimson said residents have told her they are “skipping meals” in order to be able to settle the new bedroom tax charges.

Highgate Newtown Community Centre, in Bertram Street, Highgate, is to launch lunch clubs from October 4 offering people in need of food a cooked lunch for just £1.

Centre director Andrew Sanalitro said: “There will be a spike in problems when winter comes because of heating bills. It’s just becoming a lot harder for people to cope.”

Lawyer Rebekah Carrier, who is working on a number of High Court challenges to the benefit changes, was particularly critical of the total cap.

She said: “The people most badly affected by the benefit cap are families with three or more children. Often all of their benefits go on paying their rent and they have nothing with which to feed their children.”

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