Food Bank Crisis

asks who is going to respond to recent increases in the usage of food banks in England

Photo Credit: The Prime Minister's Office

Photo Credit: The Prime Minister’s Office

In recent years there has been a sharp rise in the number of people forced to use food banks. There were 41,000 people using food banks when the coalition came to power in 2010, now there are half a million, one third of whom have children.

This rise appears to have been fuelled mainly by the government’s welfare reforms – Kent County Council, under Conservative rule, has published a report linking welfare cuts to the increase in food banks. Furthermore, a study by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has argued that the rise in homelessness of 34%, between 2010 and 2013, is linked to welfare reform.

However, Work and Pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, refused to see the Trussell Trust, leading to a debate in the House of Commons on the 18th December. But the behaviour displayed here was akin to scenes from a Dickensian novel.

Fiona MacTaggart, Labour MP for Slough, described how people battled for cheap fruit and veg in her local Tesco, prompting the supermarket to increase the presence of security guards. Rather than taking such a shocking demonstration of desperation seriously, Conservative MPs laughed and jeered. And Iain Duncan Smith caused controversy when he departed a mere hour into the three-hour debate.

Perhaps even more frightening is the government’s ignorance of these issues, as last week they turned down £22 million of EU funding to aid food banks, who are struggling to keep up with the increase in demand.

Perhaps the most obvious illustration of the regression of politicians’ attitudes to those in need was Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey’s response to questions from the opposition. She stated that food banks were one of the few good things that the recession had produced as it showed that, “the community has pulled together to support one another”.

This almost appears to be a reflection of a philosophy, steeped in Victoriana, which was particularly prominent in Gladstone’s First Ministry (1868-1874); that charity, rather than the state, should provide for the poor.

Unfortunately, there are far worse examples of this government’s attitude towards poverty. George Osborne, for example, has argued that people regard living on benefits as a “lifestyle choice”, and that claimants stay at home “with their curtains closed, sleeping off a life on benefits”.

This is despite the fact only 0.7% of benefits claims in 2012-13 were fraudulent. To hear comments, ungrounded in evidence, of such extremity and so frequently makes it seem as if we have been transported back to the 18th Century, when the majority of economists and politicians believed unemployment to be voluntary; in other words, there is employment if workers are willing to take increasingly lower wages.

Indeed, the rise of zero-hours contracts under this government, appears to be testament to this, and has meant that many of those using food banks are employed, but depend on them because of the financial instability of such contracts.

Although I have criticised the government, Labour are also blameworthy. Rachel Reeves, Shadow Work and Pensions Minister, pledged that Labour would be “tougher” than the Tories on welfare; a move which would surely increase food bank usage.

Therefore, it appears that, on both sides of the house, British politics is returning to a time when the poor were treated not with compassion, but with contempt, regarded as both work shy and lazy. Unless we begin to see past the poisonous rhetoric of successive Conservative and New Labour governments that the poor are the culprits of their positions in society rather than victims of circumstance, we will find our politicians increasingly uncaring and callous to those in need.

7 comments

  1. You are extremely naive!

    Despite the cuts, the benefits given out in this country is still one of the most generous in the world!

    People who use food banks are people who can not manage their money, they spend their benefits on other non essential things instead of food!
    People just want to keep up with the luxury consumer industry then cry poverty when their benefit money runs out.

    Get your facts right before you post your socialist crap.

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  2. I’m guessing you don’t actually know anyone who has to use a food bank, then.

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  3. SS, thank you for your comment. I’m sorry, but this is completely ridiculous, you’re just making huge generalisations about this subject. The figures I have given in the article demonstrate the link between welfare reform and poverty. However, if you want more proof the Red Cross is distributing food for the first time since the Second World War, illegal use of B and B accommodation (staying longer than 6 weeks) has risen by 800% because families are unable to pay their rent, and social security has been capped at 1%, yet the cost of living is rising 3 times as fast. Furthermore, the suggestion that people using food banks spend most of their money on luxury items is completely ungrounded. A recent survey showed that families, after bedroom tax, council tax, transport, clothing and energy costs spent on average £33 a week on groceries- this is in no way extravagance. In October it was reported that the average family on benefits had just £4.79 a week left after bills, groceries, etc. were paid, because much of their income has to be devoted to paying energy costs which have increased 16% since the first of these surveys in July. You’ve also failed to address the fact that the majority of people in poverty in this country are in work, and they are also being forced to go to food banks.

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  4. @ Mr Miller “after bedroom tax” That just shows the biased way you view this.
    No such thing as bed room tax. Hard working people pay tax and can only afford to rent out one room and share bathroom and kitchen in London, yet they fund others to have more than one room with their own kitchen and bathroom.

    These people are not wearing rags! They all have money to buy smart phones and top up their credits, they all have money to buy drink and fags, oh look, they run out of money to buy food!

    And yes, I know these people personally, I am a mature student, lot of my friends from school, just had kids and ended up on benefits. They would spend all the benefit money on weed, drinks, fags, phones, top up, then borrow money to buy food.

    Go look it up, the UK is one of the most generous countries in the world for benefits! No one in the UK has the right to to cry poverty, unless they are homeless.

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  5. @Jacob Miller

    In reply to the people who work and get food bank.
    Once again, it is down to bad management of money. When things get tough, you got to cut back on things, but lot of these people still live a life style beyond their means.

    Food is the last thing they think about, because they got to pay that line rental for the new iphone they brought, as this gives them a sense of status in life.

    Oh and don’t forget the payment they have to make to Littlewoods catalog for the 42 inch TV they brought.

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  6. @SS, I believe you are the one who is ignorant. You are making these claims with no evidence whatsoever. I am well aware that it is not a tax, but a deduction in benefits. However, it’s been dubbed the bedroom tax because to those who oppose it, it is regarded as a tax, and now this is how it is known by the majority of the public. As I’ve already explained, many of these people are becoming homeless. Furthermore, the reason why people in work are using food banks is not poor money management, but as I have already said the rise of zero hours contracts and employers paying poverty wages. In terms of our welfare being generous, however, you have to take into account cost of living, and the fact that low wages are being propped up by tax credits. Also, you have to look at the gap between the countries who also pay the very highest benefits and our own. The point is every country’s economy is different and you can’t simply compare the situation in one country to another. I would also like to say that by making comments such as these you are insulting me, as I come from a working class family, who have had to live on benefits, and anyone else reading this who is in a similar position. I appreciate comments on my article, regardless of whether they are positive or negative, so long as they provide evidence, instead of telling insubstantial stories. Therefore, please, in future, have the respect to come up with intelligent responses backed up by evidence rather than insulting readers with the use of myths.

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  7. @Jacob Miller

    You are the ignorant one with your victim mentality.
    “many of these people becoming homeless” Really? so, the government says you must have one room instead of two and so they become homeless as a result?
    No one is taking homes away, they are telling them to down size, tax payer funded property.

    I grew up where both my parents worked hard and we could only afford a two bedroom flat on a mortgage. I think it is morally wrong to have two bed rooms for one person when it is tax payer funded. when other people who pay rent or mortgage must live within their means.

    I am done with you, you need to mature more!

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