Why Britain needs to end hunger fast
The use of food banks in the UK is rising. New statistics from Trussell Trust reveal that between April and December 2013, food banks fed over 600,000 people – which is almost double the number of people receiving food aid during the whole of the preceding financial year.
With statistics such as these highlighting the reliance on food aid in the seventh richest nation in the world, there is an undeniable imperative to act. In response to “Britain’s hunger crisis”, End Hunger Fast – a grassroots campaign mobilising faith leaders, charities and members of the public – is calling on the government to implement policies that will prevent people from needing to turn to food banks to feed themselves or their families.
The campaign comes in light of Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments defending the coalition government’s welfare reforms, in which he declared the reforms as part of his “moral mission” in politics. He went on to explain that the benefits system still needs to provide a "safety net" to those who cannot work, but there had to be greater incentives to help people find employment.
End Hunger Fast is not claiming to provide all the answers to the multiple and complex reasons why people end up hungry, but it does argue that reducing poverty to a polarisation between those who have resigned themselves to a life on benefits and purposeful citizens who work for a decent income is not helpful, nor is it reflective of the current situation in the UK.
Whatever someone’s philosophy on the welfare state may be, we need one that works. 30% of those visiting food banks do so because their benefits have been delayed. Suspending any judgement on whether we can categorise people into “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, we first need to iron out incompetency in the benefits system. We need a welfare system that works for the most vulnerable, and that means making sure they receive the care that the state promises to provide.
Secondly, more needs to be done to tackle the pervasive and frequently overlooked issue of in-work poverty. With many jobs failing to provide security over hours or a decent level of pay, being in employment is no guarantee of a basic standard of living. A report from the Resolution Foundation claims that as many as one in 10 jobs is now paying within 50p of the minimum wage, meanwhile I know that amongst my peers, sporadic, non-committal contracts are an accepted part of the job market.
After a recent visit to a food bank, former MP Edwina Currie blamed the need for food banks on poor budgeting and muddled priorities, but when you set the casualization of work and trivial salaries alongside the fact that food prices have been pushed up 30.5% in the past five years, an unrestrained rental market and rising energy prices, it is not difficult to see why some families struggle.
UK poverty is not new, and the End Hunger Fast campaign does not expect to eradicate the need for food banks through a fleeting moment of public solidarity, but it does propose that there are tangible and avoidable causes for people in seventh richest nation in the world going hungry, and the government needs to do more to make sure it doesn’t happen.
You can pledge to join the National Day of Fasting on 4th April in protest against hunger in the UK. Visit the End Hunger Fast website.