If the Covid-19 crisis has plunged the UK into a historic recession, it also chimes with the instability and poverty of many new homes. “I didn’t come to soup kitchens,” says Ali Elyan, carrying a large sports bag full of food distributed by the Street Angels Association in Blackpool. This 50-year-old chef who was cooking “pizza, burgers, everything” in a restaurant in this coastal resort in northwest England has lost his job due to an epidemic that has shut down the city’s tourism industry, its economic heart.
Before the pandemic, Ali was earning £ 300 to £ 400 a week, but now he’s getting the same amount for a month thanks to universal credit, which is equivalent to Active Solidarity Income (RSA). An amount that barely covers his rent. Then it remains to pay “electricity and local taxes … that’s not enough,” he explains. “J’étais comme tout le monde. Maintenance j’ai l’impression d’être dans un trou et de m’enfoncer encore et encore. Je ne sais pas comment je vais en sortir”, dit-il avant de rentrer chez lui At night. It takes about an hour to walk.
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A few meters away, in the station car park where Street Angel distributes hot meals, coffee and groceries donated by neighboring businesses, Alice Smith, a 24-year-old volunteer, noticed that “more people are coming” to their home. Monday evening distribution. And it’s not what it was before the pandemic: fewer homeless people, addicts, and more families: “They have a roof but can no longer buy food” or warm themselves, Alice adds.
Blackpool is famous for its ‘beach of pleasures’, with ghost trains, carousels and roller coaster trains stretching across the Irish Sea, and the iconic Blackpool Tower, a miniature version of the Eiffel Tower. Just a few meters from the park, however, suffice to see the grinding poverty of the streets with covered shops and dilapidated buildings. The city was a paid vacation destination for the British until the 1980s when the rise of cheap accommodation abroad led to a prolonged decline. Since then it has been one of the most deprived areas in the country and the pandemic has significantly worsened the situation.
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Even a year ago, Steve Lyon, with short white hair and a black jacket, was running a fairground attraction. He was discharged during the first jail and then fired for the second time, he says on the waiting list at Amazing Grace Soup Kitchen. Next to him, Craig Johnson, 29, who carries in his arms his little blond son with blue-eyed opal like himself, explains that he was already living from “a strange job to a single job” before the virus. But he hasn’t been able to work for a year, he says, and without food banks he doesn’t know how his family will survive.
“We used to serve about 250 people a week, and now they’re over 400,” says Mark Butcher, founder of Amazing Grace. “It’s hard to know that you live in a city in poverty,” says Sylvia Coleshaw, warehouse manager at Blackpool Food Bank, another charity. “Now all cities are affected. But Blackpool is the most,” she adds, as she prepares grocery bags for delivery from the shed to shelves full of bread, fruits, vegetables and cans.
A recent study by the nongovernmental organization Trussell Trust showed that the historic recession triggered by Covid-19 could double extreme poverty in the UK to 2 million families, including 1 million children. “For the first time since we opened 11 years ago, we had to turn down new families because we were to our full capacity,” says Pat Naylor, director of the Home Start Association, which helps families in difficulty.
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She fears the long-term consequences for children. “It’s not just not being able to feed your family anymore. It turns from, ‘I have a job, I’m fine, the kids are fine, Christmas is going to be great’ to ‘I have it all. I missed it. ” If some of Blackpool’s hotels, restaurants, and attractions start to re-rent to reopen non-essential businesses on April 12th, Pat Naylor “will take a long time for people to regain their confidence.”
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