Food banks and five statistics that shame the Coalition

Food banks are simply one indication that the government is presiding over a shocking increase in poverty and deprivation. There are many more.

Homelessness

Food banks are a good example of David Cameron’s Big Society in action: do it yourself, because we no longer care.

If that sounds like a rather harsh assessement it is because it is increasingly hard to reach any other conclusion. As Chris Mould, executive chairman of the Trussell Trust, a charity which provides food banks, puts it:

“We’re talking about mums not eating for days because they’ve been sanctioned for seemingly illogical reasons.”

By sanctioned he means had their benefits stopped.

The awareness of what is going on is out there, but the government is either in denial or is genuinely unconcerned with the plight of those who are having to seek out food banks in order to fill their stomachs.

A case in point is the fact that the coalition has today blamed the increase in the number of people using food banks on a greater number of foodbanks. “The Trussell Trust itself says it is opening three new food banks every week, so it’s not surprising more people are using them,” a government spokesperson said.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the government should feel this way. It would, after all, be unusual for a Conservative-led coalition to be devoid of the pessimism about human nature that conservatism is known for – i.e. people with full stomachs are obviously just visiting food banks for free food, right?

Were we only seeing a rise in the number of food banks there might be an argument to be had. But we aren’t. Food banks are simply one indication that the government is presiding over a shocking increase in poverty and deprivation. Here are a few others:

1. Rough sleeping in London has increased by 13 per cent in the past year, with 6,437 people sleeping rough in the capital in 2012.

2. 50,000 council tenants are facing eviction because of the Bedroom Tax, with potentially tens of thousands more also affected.

3. The number of people working on zero hour contracts has surged since the coalition came to power in 2010, with some estimating that around 1 million people – 4 per cent of the workforce – are now on precarious zero-hour contracts.

4. Britain has suffered a substantial fall in real wages – the second biggest out of all the G20 countries – since the coalition government took office.

5. The number of people using food banks to feed themselves and their families has gone from 40,000 a year under Labour to over 350,000 in the last six months alone.

During his time in opposition, David Cameron liked to refer to “broken Britain”. Judging be some of the dreadful statistics now coming out on a regular basis, he has a funny way of fixing it.

25 Responses to “Food banks and five statistics that shame the Coalition”

  1. Sparky

    No-one getting benefits has to beg food. I was unemployed for two years and survived. Of course you scratch about for money, it’s subsistence living. Its a safety net designed to be just enough to keep body and soul together. If food banks has existed when I was on the dole, then yes, of course I would have used them. It’s free food and makes your benefit cash go further. No wonder people use them, good luck to them. But that’s not the same as there being a huge underclass of starving, destitute people who would die without food banks.

    “They stopped my benefits for no reason.” How often do we hear this? I can tell you, having worked in a benefits office, that it’s complete bollocks. Benefit offices do not stop people’s money for no reason. 99% of the time it’s because either:

    1. We received information from another agency that their circumstances had changed and they were no longer entitled to a particular benefit. We send them a letter telling them this.

    2. We wrote to them asking for information and received no reply.

    3. We wrote to them telling them of a forthcoming meeting and they didn’t show up.

    I can also tell you that benefits office staff do not want to stop people’s money erroneously because of the sheer hassle of reinstating them.

    This image of evil benefit staff cutting off people’s food money without just cause is just simplistic lazy journalism, but it’s an easy stereotype to use since it plays into so many Left wing prejudices about the salt-of-the-earth poor vs heartless capitalist government infrastructure.

  2. Spidey Geoff

    Sparky, You must admit the rise in food bank use must be linked to something, As it’s the governments job to look after the country they seem to be missing a point, real wages have gone down which also applies to people claiming benefits, heating bills are also going up, again something we all have to pay for. I don’t see myself as left wing, nor am I right wing, but I do see myself as living in a nation that is heading the wrong way. You must ask yourself why increases in use of charitable organisations are on the up and why large corporations can get away with running businesses legally without having to pay sums of money in tax/holiday pay/sick pay etc. that other smaller/medium size business do. it has a fishy smell to it.

  3. Kathryn

    Ok pal, 2 & 3 can happen for thousands of reasons, particularly people who are struggling to make ends meet. Nobody’s saying it’s the fault of staff. It’s the fault of a corrupt and callous system from top to bottom.

    Body and soul? Clearly they have no regard for the soul.

    And if “no-one getting benefits has to beg food” then how do you explain the use of food banks? You cannot just waltz into a food bank and ask for food because you cannot be bothered going to the supermarket, or you feel like saving money. You have to be referred to one by a health visitor or other professional.

    And how is it ‘simplistic and lazy’ when the article is listing statistics. They’re just facts, mate. You should familiarise yourself with some.

  4. Dotson

    Hey Sparky, I haven’t worked in a benefits office but I’ve been and out of a few and I can confirm that stopping for no good reason (from the claimant’s perspective) really does happen. The first time it happened to me was, just as you say, a request for information from Housing Benefit that I failed to reply to meant that my rent didn’t get paid and I ended up owing nearly £1000 to my housing association (who took months to let me know that they’d received nothing from Housing Benefit – no, I’ve no idea why either). As it turned out the request for information was almost certainly a letter querying whether I’d considered applying for another benefit I was entitled to. This request for information didn’t come to the house I was making a claim on, or to my previous address, or to my address prior to that. In fact, I have literally no idea where it did go. All I know was that my claim failed because I failed to reply to a quest I never received. From a benefits office that failure to reply seems like a reasonable justification for not proceeding with my claim, from my perspective it seems like no reason (and it certainly isn’t my fault failing to reply to a letter I have no awareness of the existence of).
    I agree that it is possible to live on benefits, again from my own experience. In fact, I managed to save money every month, having got my non-bills expenditure down to just under £10 a week, on average. I actually saved so much that I stopped checking my bank account, which meant that after a benefits office cock-up, where, after going from self-employed working less than 20 hours a week to just plain unemployed, someone somewhere felt to change my circumstances, in spite of having received all the necessary information, I ended up finding my monthly utility direct debits bouncing, costing me over £100. I could have picked that up sooner had I been less good at saving my money but the error again wasn’t mine and the person who the buck stopped with was once against me. Can you see how, from the claimants perspective, this would seem like for ‘no good reason’.
    I also have seen non-Job Centre staff gleefully bouncing long term unemployed people off benefits as a sanction for any wrongdoing they can find, on one of those spurious ‘work training’ courses where those involved cease to count as unemployed and where bouncing clients off of the course (causing their claim for JSA to also cease) seemed to be encouraged by management. This was possibly because they assumed spurious claimants wouldn’t be bothered to sign up for benefits again and those that really needed them would still be off the statistics for a bit. In defence of the benefits agencies, everyone I spoke to in the Job Centre HATED these courses and the effect they had.
    I have met some Job Centre staff who have been great, one or two monsters and the majority have just been ordinary people, as capable of forgetfulness, mistakes and confusion as any other human being. But the people who tend to suffer, and often receive the blame, when mistakes happen are the benefit claimants, whether it was their fault (and it often can be) or not.

    ps I’m hoping that the JSA days are behind me now. I’m now a journalist (and hopefully not a lazy one).

  5. Eleanor

    Well I have worked in a benefits office too-thank goodness a good few years ago – and of course they are not ogres and often sympathise with those having to claim- although some were as self righteous as this sanctimonious government. It should be remembered that means tested benefit levels were designed to only cover basic need, but now also have to cover a proportion of council tax not to mention bedroom tax as well. Do people think that others really want to go cap in hand to food banks? Of course not. And don’t forget many who do are just “hard working families” but cannot get a job! Suppose it won’t be long before they bring back workhouses!

  6. MoniqueBuckner

    Workfare is the new workhouse. And with wages so low for many working people, what’s the difference between this and slavery?

  7. Tony Turtle

    What about the person that is so desperate to get off benefits that he tried his best to find work and then got sanctioned for doing too much!

    What about the two week sanction for not receiving a letter that had been delivered to the wrong address? No the claimant had not moved, the postman got it wrong and the person that received it in error did not pass it on!

  8. Sparky

    “2 and 3 can happen for thousands of reasons”.

    The reasons are irrelevant, since the benefit officer doesn’t know what they are. All he or she can do is act upon the fact of no-response, because that’s all the information available. Interestingly, when I worked at the benefit office, all benefits were sent out by post. How many of those cheques were lost in the post? Virtually none. Yet how many letters requesting information went missing? Hundreds. “I never got it”, “It didn’t arrive”. Right. But you got the cheque okay?

    “Nobody’s saying it’s the fault of the staff.”

    But they are. You only have to spend an hour in a benefit office to witness people shouting and swearing at the staff. You only have to read these pages to see comments about from people about how ‘those bastards’ at the ‘dole office’ cut off ‘my money’ for ‘no reason’.

    “It’s the fault of a corrupt and callous system”.

    In what way is the system ‘corrupt’ exactly? A corrupt system would imply that the staff take bribes. I’ve never seen a bribe offered, let alone accepted. Do you have other information?

    “You have to be referred by a health visitor or other professional.”

    No, this is incorrect. Referrals can be made by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. I could walk down to my local CAB this afternoon and tell them I’ve got no money and get a referral. Do you think they ask for bank statements? The CAB and other such people are not given performance metrics that check whether they verified a client’s background and means, they are measured by how many clients they see and how they resolve their case. Referring a client to a food bank counts as positive performance indicator.

    “The article is listing statistics.”

    Yes, it is. But the stats do not demonstrate a causal relationship with the the use of foodbanks.To prove a causal link, one would have to collate data on foodbank users. As it is, the figures are just provided to create an emotional response in the reader. They have no statistical value when trying to understand foodbank usage.

  9. Kathryn

    “The reasons are irrelevant”
    No the reasons are NOT irrelevant when you’re talking about someone’s level of basic support, and them being unable to subsist.

    “But they are. You only have to spend an hour in a benefit office to witness people shouting and swearing at the staff.”
    This happens in every line of work. You’re not a special snowflake. Also see above – it’s someone’s most basic level of income and a last resort for the vunerable and desperate. Of course emotions ride high.

    “In what way is the system ‘corrupt’ exactly?”
    We live in a world where 46% of wealth is owned by 1% of people. We could easily redistribute and not have the need for food banks. The government is making it harder for people to get out of poverty, and penalising the poor and sick. And reducing tax, in our country, for those at the top. It’s fucked up and cruel.

    “No, this is incorrect. Referrals can be made by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. I could walk down to my local CAB this afternoon and tell them I’ve got no money and get a referral.”
    Bullshit. Try this and let me know how you get on.

    I’m not engaging with you any more. There are hundreds of more positive ways for me to use my energy than on someone as heartless as you.

  10. Sparky

    There isn’t a single heartless statement in my post. You have ascribed that quality to me because, like all Left wingers, you are so convinced of your own moral superiority that the only explanations that you have for people who disagree with you is that they either greedy, evil or stupid.

  11. cab volunteer

    working for the citizens advice bureau i would argue the case here.

  12. hazel smith

    you talk a load of old tosh.

  13. Popsy

    I detest this Government with a vengeance, just who the hell do they think they are? I have seen better thugs on the street than this lot, they make my stomach heave, and i hope every single one of them dies a really nasty horrible death, and then have to face their maker at the end of it, pure scum.

  14. Popsy

    I detest this Government with a vengeance, just who the hell do they think they are? I have seen better thugs on the street than this lot, they make my stomach heave, and i hope every single one of them dies a really nasty horrible death, and then have to face their maker at the end of it, pure scum.

  15. Selohesra

    What a charming person you are

  16. Alison Piearcey

    The words ‘no reason’ are the benefit of the doubt. What they are actually referring to is ‘your promotion is more important than my subsistence’ since all you get for not sanctioning enough people is a disciplinary mark – the clients get to starve.

    As for ‘didn’t get the letter’ have you actually lived in shared digs? The kind where you have to be on the doorstep waiting for the postie, otherwise your post goes into whoever got there first’s fireplace?

    When you know your dole cheque is due, you stop the postie before he gets to the door. Should you have to do that every day, in case the dole office decide to send you a letter saying you should have been at an appointment yesterday? So that’s a good two hours less per day you can look for a job.

    “The benefit officer doesn’t know” Unless the client tells them. Like ‘you know that specialist I’ve been waiting six months to see, since you decided I’m ‘fit for work’? Well, the appointment’s on Wednesday morning, same as my signing time. Could I sign later in the day?’ Yes, you can, but you’ll get a four week sanction. Ditto for job interview, ditto for housing interview. No, I don’t have a sicknote for me, because it was my two-year-old who was sick, and the doctor only issues sicknotes for adults.

    Most sanctions (according to sources within the industry who have access to the ‘big picture’) are issued to people who have a damn good reason why they didn’t do whatever the Hoop was. Like ‘apply for 5 jobs from the paper’ One week, there are three the person has a hope in hell of getting; one that’s a CEO and blatantly already filled by the person who exactly fits the spec; and one that’s asking you to pay to apply. So the sensible person only applies for three. Beep. No money.

  17. Alison Piearcey

    No, the opinion of ‘heartless’ is based on the evidence you presented. Your implication is that none of your ‘clients’ (like that’s not a loaded word) deserve any of the money they’ve paid in, and you seem to think your job is to deny them as much as you think you can get away with. When they shout at you for not doing the job the rest of society thinks you were hired for (I know your bosses think different) that’s just proof to you that they’re scum; the rest of us see yet another failure by bureaucracy to be humane. When stray dogs get better treatment than humans, we’ve got something seriously screwed up.

    I’d say heartless is pretty accurate.

  18. Alison Piearcey

    No, the opinion of ‘heartless’ is based on the evidence you presented. Your implication is that none of your ‘clients’ (like that’s not a loaded word) deserve any of the money they’ve paid in, and you seem to think your job is to deny them as much as you think you can get away with. When they shout at you for not doing the job the rest of society thinks you were hired for (I know your bosses think different) that’s just proof to you that they’re scum; the rest of us see yet another failure by bureaucracy to be humane. When stray dogs get better treatment than humans, we’ve got something seriously screwed up.

    I’d say heartless is pretty accurate.

  19. Alison Piearcey

    Slavery you can prosecute. This is apparently legal.

  20. Joe Bloggs

    I know of a bloke with a zero hours contact who has not been given any work for weeks. He lives on a boat and most of the time he stays in bed because when he is in bed he’s not spending any money! No dole money because technically speaking he IS employed! AFAIK there is no food-bank within walking distance but in any case doesn’t one need a letter from the Jobcentre in order to visit a food-bank?

    This new system invented by the bean counters must cost far less than running a workhouse.

  21. Joe Bloggs

    I have heard of people having to catch a bus to sign on and in rural areas buses don’t run very often. The bus is delayed by road works and arrives five minutes late. The claimant is then sanctioned and loses two weeks dole money. Of course not all Jobcentres are like this but the ones in “Pilot Areas” are. Not true? Well there’s no smoke without fire!

  22. Joe Bloggs

    The system IS CORRUPT and I can speak from experience. Incidentally my background has always been in Technical Support in electrical and electronic engineering. I eventually had the misfortune to work for a bad employer that banned Trades Unions and once staff had no protection their managers treated them like dirt. I left that hell-hole and tried to make a fresh start.

    One day at the Jobcentre there was a job advertised that was right up my street “Electrical Maintenance Person Required”. I could have done that job standing on my head so I noted down the details and spoke to the clerk about the job. There was another woman further back in the Jobcentre who was eavesdropping. Suddenly she blurted out “Oh that ones gone, Fred’s having that.” Well I don’t know who Fred was but presumably he was a friend or a relative of the Jobcentre clerk. Good game isn’t it? Tell all the hopefuls that the job has been taken and Fred won’t have any competition at the interview!

    DON’T TELL ME THAT THE SYSTEM IS NOT CORRUPT!

  23. Joe Bloggs

    Workhouses would be far too expensive so the modern technique is to railroad people into accepting zero-hours-contracts. The problem with such contracts is that in recessionary times the employees are rarely called in to work. This leaves them with no earnings, no dole and frequently no food.

  24. Joe Bloggs

    I suspect that Popsy has had several bad experiences with “the system”.

  25. Joe Bloggs

    May I show you all the Big Picture? Here it is “Capitalist economies NEED five to ten percent unemployment to prevent wage inflation.” The corollary has to be that unemployed people are actually doing a good job of keeping down wages thereby helping the country to export.

    Unfortunately “The System” wants it both ways.

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