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 in London

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!

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