Food Banks in the United Kingdom - 2
Food Banks a Necessity not a Choice
On July 2nd 2013 Baroness Miller asked a question about food banks in the House of Lords, the upper house of the United Kingdom Parliament. You might think that the event was unremarkable, however, there were few food banks in the UK until recently, times have changed and some estimates claim that over half a million people now regularly rely on food banks to make ends meet.
Some people now count food banks as part of the welfare system. Austerity means that welfare provision is being cut drastically. The Coalition Government, or more specifically, the Conservative part of that coalition, believe that cutting welfare provision and painting all those claiming welfare benefits as work shy skivers is popular with the public, unfortunately the actual figures prove that the majority of those claiming welfare benefits are actually the working poor. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) during the subsequent exchange in the House of Lords, showed the government’s misunderstanding of the link between drastic cuts in welfare provision and the rise in food bank use. Peddling the usual government line that food bank use was increasing due to them being better advertised. This is disingenuous and implies that poor people choose to use food banks in the same way that the more affluent might choose one brand of washing powder over another, or that people go to food banks from choice rather than necessity. Some government spokespersons seem to imply that people go there for the free food.
Myths about Food Banks
In 2014, Conservative politicians continue to constantly peddle the myth that people visit food banks because the food is free, not because they are too poor to buy food. Rising energy prices mean that some families and pensioners must choose between heating and eating. It just shows how very out of touch British politicians are.
In the United Kingdom, you cannot just turn up at a food bank and claim free food. Poor people need a written referral from their doctor, a government agency, social worker, job centre, or the police, who only refer people in dire need to the food bank. Going to a food bank is not a matter of consumer choice, but of necessity. From Victorian times there has been a horror among the British people about accepting charity, there are still folk memories of the workhouse system among the public.
Since April 2012, one organization reports that it has increased the number of its food banks by 76% and the number of people using them increasing by 175%. People using food banks have continued to increase rapidly, the voluntary organizations and churches are finding it hard to keep pace with the need. The huge increase is not because people want to use food banks, but because they must use them or go without food. They lack food or the money to buy it because of benefit cuts, circumstances beyond their own control, blunders by the benefits agencies or the unexpected. The people that use food banks are not lazy, feckless or work shy, they are ordinary decent people, who have fallen on hard times. Their stories on the Trussel Trust’s pages should be required reading for all government spokespersons, before they make any public declarations. It is a Victorian notion that the poor are poor through their own fault and not because of the inequality fostered by British governments of all persuasions since 1979.