Emergency food banks: Britain’s embarrassing secret

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I was in Tesco over the weekend – I promise you, there is a point to this – and there was a big stall set up in the entrance, manned by two women running around handing out short lists of items to donate to the Trussell Trust food banks.  I was glad to see as I walked around the shop people investigating the biscuit isle with the lists in hand, but until then I had not fully appreciated the urgent growing need for food banks.  So I did what all the youth do these days.  I Googled it.

We all know as our tuition fee loans have tripled, the price of everything else is also on the rise;  people are investing more in pensions for no additional return, council tax is set to increase in some areas and a range of benefit cuts are hitting the poorest and most vulnerable families in the country . An Independent report found The Big Six energy companies had the “average profit they make per household…more than tripled in three years”, leaving many unable to cover the cost of energy in the winter months. Long story short; everything is more expensive and wages are not compensating for this.

In October the BBC reported that the Trussell Trust “handed out supplies to more than 350,000 people between April and September this year”, three times that which was distributed last year.  When compared to the 2009-2010 figure of 26,000, this is a staggering increase.  The Trussell Trust website states “13 million people live below the poverty line in the UK.  Every day people in the UK go hungry for reasons ranging from redundancy to receiving an unexpected sky-high bill. Trussell Trust food banks provide a minimum of three days emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in the UK.”

Britain is heralded as a nation of prosperity, it’s the seventh richest country in the world, there is no justification for this level of depravity existing.  The Conservatives seem to be of the opinion that the growing number of food banks are the reason more people are turning to them.  David Cameron said that they are an asset, rather than a symbol of failure, in his “Big Society” and Michael Gove stated that the increase in the use of food banks was down to “decisions that have been taken by those families which mean that they are not best able to manage their finances” and that the solution to the problem is more complex than financial support.

The increased use of food banks hasn’t been debated in Parliament, but Jack Monroe, a previous food bank user and anti-poverty campaigner, has created a petition that is popular but clearly needs even more votes to gain the attention of those in Westminster. If the facts alone don’t work, Monroe’s despondent account of her Christmas Day in 2011 might. This is how she described it “I sat on my sofa by myself in a freezing cold flat, with no television, no presents, no food in the fridge that had been turned off at the mains. I had no tree, no decorations, nothing to mark the day as any different from any other. I was unemployed, broke, and broken. I hadn’t bought a single present for my one-year-old son, and instead let him go to his father’s for the day, knowing I could not give him a Christmas myself.” Is it okay to leave 60,000 families in Britain in this situation this Christmas?

Regardless of political allegiances, most people recognise that this is a serious problem.  Nobody in modern Britain should struggle to afford basic necessities. Academics at Warwick University were commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to investigate the rise in the use of food banks in Britain.  Though, in early November the Sunday Times released an article stating the report “highlighting the number of people who cannot afford to eat properly, is being suppressed by ministers”. We need a thorough investigation into the causes and a strategy to overcome this issue to be published and implemented.   I am no Nobel Prize winning economist but if you are you should definitely contact David Cameron, he could really use some help.

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