A crisis made in Downing Street: one MILLION people visit food banks

Almost one million people had to rely on a food bank for emergency food aid in the past year.

Is that what the government calls a recovery? asks James Bloodworth

Almost one million people had to rely on a food bank for emergency food aid in the past year, according to figures released today by the Trussell Trust.

913,138 people received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust food banks in 2013-14, compared to 346,992 in 2012-13. According to the chairman of the Trussell Trust, these figures are the “tip of the iceberg”.

To put it starkly, in the sixth largest economy in the world almost a million people are now unable to afford enough to eat, a savage indictment of the coalition if ever there was one.

And be in no doubt, this is a crisis created in Downing Street.

83 percent of Trussell Trust food banks surveyed reported that benefits sanctions have caused more people to be referred to them for emergency food. Half of referrals to foodbanks in 2013-14 were due to benefit delays or changes.

As the graph below demonstrates, under the coalition the number of people relying on food banks has skyrocketed.

Food banks April 2014j

Not only has the coalition presided over this shocking increase, but Britain’s food banks have been blocked from claiming millions in EU aid after Tory MEPs voted against the measure in the European Parliament.

Earlier this year the European Parliament voted by a large majority today to endorse EU funding which would have made a £3 million fund available for food banks in the UK. However Tory MEPs blocked the measure in a move that “defied belief” according to one Labour MEP.

Demonstrating just how out of touch they are, some conservatives have blamed the growth in the number of people using food banks down on their proliferation – i.e. there are more food banks open so more people are therefore visiting them as a source of free food. As Robin Aitkin wrote last year for the Telegraph:

“…a new service is being offered to more and more communities – and, naturally, people are using it. What is more, the sustained media interest in food banks has acted as a kind of giant pro bono advertising campaign; suddenly everybody knows about them.”

Even worse, former Tory MP Edwina Currie was roundly criticised last year for claiming that food bank users were only using the resource because they were spending all their money on…tattoos and dog food.

Despite the evidence-free claims coming from some on the right, the huge growth in the number of people visiting food banks has more to do with government measures such as benefit sanctions than with fecklessness or ‘shirking’.

These are not scroungers seeking a free meal, but rather people with no means left with which to purchase food.

It’s also worth noting that food prices have risen significantly in recent years. According to consumer group Which?, over the last six years food prices have risen over and above general inflation by 12.6 per cent, and nearly half (45 per cent) of consumers are spending a larger proportion of their available income on food than they did 12 months ago.

Yesterday, with the release of the latest inflation figures, we heard yet more triumphalism from the government about their economic plan “working”.

Certainly we should welcome the fact that wages are catching up with inflation after four long years of falling living standards, but the idea that the so-called ‘cost of living crisis’ has now abated completely conflicts with reality. As was reported on Monday, one in three people believe they are just one paycheque away from homelessness and – as we learn today – almost a million people are unable to afford even enough to eat.

Is that what the government calls a recovery? Perhaps if you own a large house and work in Canary Wharf it is. But for many people the struggle goes on.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.