Food banks are victims of social ignorance

1 Apr

Conservatives just don’t seem to get food banks. Last week Liam Marshall-Ascough, a Tory councillor in Crawley, told a local council meeting food poverty was not an issue because ‘you try booking a restaurant in Crawley on a Friday or Saturday night. You can’t do it’.

Earlier this month the Trussell Trust, which has links to over 400 food banks across the UK, revealed a dramatic increase in the use of food banks in Scotland. The Trust’s Ewan Gurr cited a number of reasons for this trend, including welfare reforms and the cost of living. The government responded by bizarrely claiming food banks were creating their own demand with offers of free food.

There seems to be an astonishing amount of ignorance and class privilege going on here.

It is the same ignorance that compelled Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, to sneak out of a Parliamentary debate on food banks in December. Pressure for the debate had not begun in Parliament, but as the result of a petition signed by more than 140,000 people.

Mr Marshall-Ascough also said ‘there is a £26,000 benefits cap’ adding ‘there is something wrong if they can’t live on that’. Who the councillor thinks ‘they’ are is not clear from the report in the Crawley News . Does he perhaps believe in an underclass of workshy graspers all living comfortably on £26,000 a year?

Food banks are not free supermarkets and most require a voucher or referral from the relevant authorities before access to much needed supplies is granted. It is difficult to believe the government does not know this, so to claim food banks are creating their own demand is either cynical politicking or astonishing social ignorance.

The Trussell Trust’s website reports that for the 2012/13 financial year more than 345,000 people needed the food they supplied. This is an increase of more than 200,000 on the previous year, with the top four reasons for needing emergency food being benefits delays, low income, changes to benefits and debt. None of this matters of course, because ‘you try booking a restaurant in Crawley on a Friday or Saturday night’.

We live in a society where 13 million people are classed as living in poverty. This is around 20% of the population. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation more than half of this number are part of working families. The Foundation’s Julia Unwin told the BBC last year of a labour market which offered ‘little security and paltry wages that are insufficient to make ends meet’. A TUC report released this year found one in five UK workers take home less than a living wage, with the figure in some Parliamentary constituencies rising to almost half.

The comfortably off, like Mr Marshall-Ascough, do not see this world. The government, surrounded as it is by the London property bubble, do not see it either, if they even want to at all. As the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee points out, cutting corporation tax, tax collectors and VAT inspectors are the actions of a government who would rather the state did as little as possible. Perhaps this sounds appealing to the Liam Marshall-Ascoughs of this world – who do not need a safety net to fall back on. But to millions of people it means scraping by on less and less.

We now live in one of the most unequal societies in the world. Food banks are only a symptom of this, but talk of table reservations in the face of food poverty is an ignorance we can no longer tolerate.

 

 

Youtube credit: video originally posted by Glynne Powell

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