A woman pushes a pram around a largely deserted Salford Shopping Centre. Aside from a few charity shops, most units lie empty with metal shutters down.
“We’ve had to cut back on everything,” the 56-year-old says as she shelters from the rain. “We can’t afford to go out, we can’t afford anything.
“We have kids having to go to food banks in this day and age. It’s making me feel depressed. I’ve got four grandchildren – I can’t even afford to buy them an Easter egg.”
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Like thousands across the region, she’s struggling to cope with the rising cost of living. But even amid a crisis, Salford has been considered less in need of ‘levelling up’ than all other Greater Manchester boroughs – despite being one of the most deprived areas in the country.
The city is listed in category two on the Leveling Up Fund Index of Priority Places for the second round funding. All other boroughs in the region are classified in category one – first in line for funding and most in need of leveling up.
Donna Skeffington sits waiting at a bus stop. The 55-year-old, from Ordsall, has been forced to borrow money off her son de ella so she can pay for her heating de ella.
“My partner is 69 and he doesn’t like being cold – we have to put the heating on. We throw blankets on but he doesn’t like that,” she says. Sometimes we have to borrow off our son, he never asks for it back.
“My partner has worked all his life and he has to pay for me out of his state pension for bills, for everything. It makes me feel horrible.
“We’ve just got to try and cope with it. We try and find the cheapest food. We are okay for now but things could go bad very quickly.
“You’ve just got to deal with it. You can’t do anything about it; you can’t starve and you’ve got to have the heating on.
Melissa Speed, from Salford, recently had her PIP (Personal Independence Payment) benefit stopped. She now receives £140 which has to last her a fortnight.
“I’m not coping at all,” the 42-year-old told the Manchester Evening News. “I have to go round getting food parcels.
“By the time I’ve done gas and electric and bought food, I have nothing. I’m going round picking up dimps because I can’t afford my own tobacco. We go to a charity to get breakfast and dinner.”
Andrew Blenkhorn, from Swinton, perches on his mobility walker outside Poundland, where he plans to buy his granddaughter a present. “I’m struggling with the gas and electric, it’s gone up,” the 53-year-old says. “It’s this time of year, isn’t it, that all the utility bills, council tax, food and everything else is rising.
“Just for arguments sake, I do a shop online. There was something the other week that was a pound, but then it had gone up to £2.95.
“You’re having to shop around to find the cheapest food. I live on my own and can cook so I make enough meals and freeze them to save money. My bills are going up even though I’m in credit.
“I feel sorry for my daughter. She’s a community health visitor and a single mum, but she has childcare costs and everything else.
“The prices of everything are going up. I get PIP allowance but I’m just on the cusp of going into my overdraft every money, and that’s just on basics like food and bills. It does get me down. I’ve noticed that even things on Amazon have gone up.”
Another shopper, who did not wish to give her name, works with homeless charities. The 35-year-old says she has seen a dramatic increase in people struggling – even food banks.
“I work with the homeless and I see really struggling people who have worked all their lives,” she told the MEN “They’re struggling to get money for food banks, especially gas and electric.
“I see my mom struggling all the time. I have to help her out of her; she’s only on basic benefits. Her gas and electric bill for her is going up to £200. I’m okay, I just like helping everyone.”
Salford and Eccles MP, Rebecca Long-Bailey, has called for the city’s status to be upgraded ‘urgently’. She says much of Salford is in ‘desperate need’ of regeneration.
Worsley and Eccles South MP Barbara Keeley described the ‘lack of central support’ from the government for a city where constituents are having to choose between heating or eating as ‘appalling’.
But the government says the system used to calculate the Index is ‘fair, robust and transparent’. They say the focus is on productivity, unemployment, skills, transport and commercial and dwelling vacancy rates when working out priority.
The government last week updated its list of areas in category one – considered most in need of leveling up and first in line for funding. A few places, like Chorley, Wirral, Kirklees and Allerdale and Copeland, have been upgraded to category one. Rishi Sunak’s affluent constituency Richmondshire, in Yorkshire, is also in that category.
Salford, however, remains category two and is the only place in Greater Manchester not in the top category. That’s despite the area being the 18th most deprived local authority area in England, according to the most recent data for Indices of Multiple Deprivation. It’s also the third most deprived in Greater Manchester.
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