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Taking offence

The many clients of foodbanks here in Swindon must have found T Reynolds recent letter very offensive, (It’s free food, 31st May). Ever since the late 1940s there has been an implied contract between the Government and the population in which we pay our various taxes and levies while the Exchequer sets aside funds to provide health care and a basic income to those who cannot find work or are of retirement age.

Attending a foodbank instead of a grocery store is not a matter of choice. Food is only handed out to those who come with a permit issued, usually by the local Social Services team. Not only is the whole process extremely humiliating, it clearly demonstrates that the Exchequer has broken its side of the contract and failed to provide an adequate basic income to the claimant. In fact most vouchers are issued because the claimants have received no money at all.

Under the new universal credit regime claimants are routinely kept waiting five weeks for their first payment and many are kept waiting nine weeks or more. Does Terry realise that claimants receive no back pay however long they are kept waiting? Compare that with our days at work and the old unemployment benefit. You got no money for the first three days and you might wait a week before the first Post Office voucher actually arrived. But no one was expected to survive nine weeks with no income.

I know there are concerns that “benefits scroungers” milk the system. I’m sure some people do and always have done. Rather than getting a job, one of my uncles posed as handicapped to claim disability benefit for many years. At the same time Lord Ashcroft, the deputy Chair and large donor to the Conservative Party, was claiming attendance allowances for sitting in the Lords, but paying no tax because he was deemed to be living in Belize. People at both ends of the wealth spectrum have ways of playing the system.

Finally, Terry says that he hasn’t mentioned the sale of Britain’s gold reserves. However, he really hasn’t mentioned that the Tory Government is reportedly about to sell the public holding of RBS shares, just when they are the lowest they’ve been for ages.

Don Reeve, Horder Mews, Old Town, Swindon

Austerity over safety

Justin Tomlinson MP tells us (Friday 1 June) that his government is pumping money into Swindon’s schools.

Local parents may not recognise this picture. Swindon’s schools are struggling to cope with shrinking funding and bigger classes, and even children’s day-to-day safety is now being compromised. More and more children are leaving primary school without the basic swimming ability that the National Curriculum says they need. And Year 6 parents have heard that this year their children are not going to get the “Bikeability” cycling proficiency training that would enable them to get about safely by bike.

SBC’s decision not to replace retiring school crossing patrol officers will also put children at risk. Eastcott Road is busy and dangerous, and the natural crossing point is near a blind corner.

For decades, therefore, pupils crossing the road have been kept safe by a crossing guard. But the current crossing guard is moving on, and Swindon Borough Council has announced that he will not be replaced. SBC states plainly that the decision was taken for financial reasons. Not replacing lollipop people is, they tell us, part of the answer to the financial challenges facing the Council.

It seems that the current government places far more importance on pressing ahead with its austerity programme than on the safety of our children, whether they are walking or cycling to school, or on holiday at the seaside.

There is a petition calling for the reinstatement of the Eastcott Road crossing patrol on change.org.

Coun Jane Milner-Barry, Old Town, Swindon

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