Autumn Statement cuts and benefits: London's Central Mosque of Brent issues cost-of-living warning

Dr Raja Amjid Riaz and his team at the surplus food bank at Central Mosque of Brent recently received the King's Award for Voluntary Service (KAVS).

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A leading surgeon who helped tackle Covid-19 during the pandemic has launched a community cafe in one of London’s poorest boroughs, serving free meals to struggling families amidst the cost-of-living crisis.

Dr Raja Amjid Riaz, professor consultant who chairs the Central Mosque of Brent, already runs a bi-weekly surplus food market serving 600 families a week and now the cafe is set to help even more members of the community.

On Wesneday (November 22) Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will deliver his Autumn Statement, and it is expected to include changes to benefits and tax cuts.

“The cost-of-living crisis is making a major impact on the community,” said Dr Riaz. “Even those who are working are struggling to make ends meet.

“When we launched the surplus food market it was the majority of people coming from the congregation. As time passed we had more people from the wider community.”

Dr Riaz, who took over from his father as chairman of the mosque, said he expects the community cafe to have the same uptake as the surplus food market. 

Opening of community cafe at Brent central mosqueOpening of community cafe at Brent central mosque
Opening of community cafe at Brent central mosque

The WG Community Cafe, at the mosque in Willesden Green, launched in early November and is open from lunchtime every Friday, serving hot meals. In future it will provide support facilities.

According to recent data from Trust for London, around 36% of households in Brent are living in poverty, 9% above the London average, and 14% above the England average.

The west London borough also has the highest unemployment rate in the capital according to the report published last year.

Along with his work tackling food poverty in the area, Dr Riaz set up a vaccination clinic at the mosque during the pandemic.

The vaccine centre was initially rolled out in December 2020, administering over 13,000 doses including at risk and hesitant groups.

On Israel-Hamas conflict

Dr Riaz said that while there have been no tensions in the community amidst the conflict in the Middle East, the mosque remains vigilant.

“The mosque’s approach is that we are on the side of humanity. We are against violence whether it's from the Palestinian side or the excessive force from the Israeli side,” he said. “I listen to both sides from the community and have expressed concerns to local MPs and councillors. The major focus of the community is to get a ceasefire.

"I met up with the head of the synagogue in our community and we agreed more than we disagreed on.”

Dr Riaz and his team at the surplus food bank this year received the King's Award for Voluntary Service (KAVS).

The Brent Central Mosque can be found at 41 Station Parade, London NW2 4PU.