The UK economy is inching further towards stability, with increased consumer spending showing that Britain isn’t feeling the pinch quite so much as before. And yet paradoxically, new figures reveal that record numbers of people are turning to food banks, despite the supposed rise in living standards.
It is a national disgrace, and one which has been under the limelight in the build-up to the upcoming election.
The Trussell Trust, a charity which runs a network of over 420 food banks in the UK, distributed parcels containing three days’ worth of food over a million times in the financial year of 2014-2015.
An average of 49 per cent of users only visited once, while others were in need of their services on a more frequent basis; each visit is counted separately, with every member of a family included.
The Trust estimates that half of their users equates to half a million people, with 15 per cent needing help more than three times a year.
Despite political promises for action, these figures continue to rise – specifically, 19 per cent from 2013-14. As some politicians debated whether food banks were really necessary at all, nearly 397,000 children needed their support last year. That’s a lot of kids starting their day at school on an empty stomach.
The reasons pushing people to food banks are primarily financial, such as problems with benefit payments coming through, due to an inefficient system. The second biggest driver is low household income, which has increased to 22 per cent of all referrals.
In other words, insecure work, low pay, and the cost of living are so bad for thousands of people in this country that food is unaffordable. It’s not something you’d expect in a nation with the 14th highest Human Development Index in the world.
And the Trussell Trust is just one network of food banks. At most, data such as this provides only a rough outline of precise numbers of users. Also, the figures don’t take into account people who would rather go hungry than admit that they can’t afford to eat. To many, it is a source of great embarrassment that they cannot provide for those who depend on them, a secret shame no parent should have to bear.
Yet some argue that food banks aren’t essential: York councillor Chris Steward used the general rise in living standards to argue in 2013 that: “There is certainly no need for food banks; no-one in the UK is starving and I think food banks insult the one billion in the world that go to bed hungry every day, and ignore the fact that a child dies of hunger every three seconds.”
He added that: “The fact that some give food to food banks, merely enables people who can’t budget (an issue where schools should do much more and I have said the council should) or don’t want to, to have more money to spend on alcohol, cigarettes etc.”
Clearly, views such as these are a reason for the perpetuation of UK poverty: drawing the blinds over the issue in a determined avowal that it simply can’t exist in this country.
Judging by these figures, not only is poverty in urgent need of addressing, it is not being addressed effectively enough. And that in no way belittles the existence of poverty on a wider scale in other parts of the world. Making immediate correlations between low income and irresponsibility, too, offers no solution.