VIDEO INTERVIEW: “There is a lack of government intervention” – Mahmoud Raage on poverty in Sparkbrook

Mahmoud Raage is the Outreach and Advice Worker for Ashiana Community Project, a charity based in Sparkbrook.

After many years working to improve the welfare of citizens, he knows about all the social problems that people are facing in Sparkbrook, an area defined by high levels of deprivation and child poverty.

The struggle of having a normal life

Sparkbrook is an area characterised by low income and high unemployment rate, with most people relying on benefits.

Mahmoud Raage says that the strict job regulations and the benefit reductions are contributing to this deprived environment, where families are struggling to lead a normal life.

“The majority of the local families are not working so they are living with a very low income. Due to this situation they can not provide their children the support they need in terms of schools, transport and leisure.

“The employment regulations are very tough so if they don’t go to job centre they won’t receive the benefits. That will have a bad impact in the family life.

“In the last three years I’ve seen a lot of families struggling to get the normal life. Some people are losing their houses because they can not afford to pay the rent. There is also an increasing number of young people who are engaging with crime and low disorder.”

49.5% child poverty rate, the highest in Birmingham

The low standard of living and the high child poverty rate in the area means that a child who grows up in Sparkbrook will have a more complicated life than in other parts of Birmingham.

Raage explains how this is affecting the life of children and warns that the situation is getting worse.

“Children are not getting enough food, many of them are getting their food from us. Families are struggling to pay the bills rather than feeding the children.

“Council taxes are increasing, they receive less housing benefit, less child tax benefit. The problems are increasing day after day, year after year.”

The need for more support

Like other charities working in the area, Ashiana Community Project offers the community a wide range of services, from financial advice to education and legal support.

However, Mahmoud Raage says that more support is needed and blames the “lack of government intervention”.

“When we discuss with the local gov they will argue that the central government is not giving them enough money. When you talk to the central government, they will say that is not the role of the central government to do the intervention.

“There is a lack of awareness among politicians. They don’t know the reality of the local community, they don’t care about it.”

Raage also warns that poverty is still increasing and that urgent measures are required to tackle it.

“What we are seeing is poverty increasing enormously. It needs a very urgent reaction from government.

“What I see is that the future of children in the Sparkbrook area is very, very bad. What I see is crimes increasing, many young people are not working and they are hanging on the streets.”

Education, the key to improvement

The high competition in the job market as well as the low qualification levels of adults are the main causes of the high unemployment rate in the area.

Mahmoud Raage says that the government should be focused in creating more jobs and also investing more in the educational services of local children.

“It is very complicated to find a job in this area. There are only very small shops and supermarkets, job opportunities are very narrow in this area. The language barrier is a big issue, if you want to get a good job you need a very good English and high skills.

“There is less investment in schools in this area than in other parts of Birmingham. If the government is not putting money in the schools, they can not produce good students.

“Instead of giving benefits the government should be focused on creating jobs, improving the education of local pupil and trying to invest in the local area.”

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