Friday, April 25, 2014

The New National Crisis; Hunger

Last week over 60 Anglican bishops and 600 other religious leaders sent a letter to Prime Minister Cameron,  Deputy Clegg and Shadow Milliband asking them to tackle the causes of food poverty. In Britain.
The latest figures to be published show that more than a million Britains have sought aid from food banks in the last year. The causes of food poverty are ever increasing; wages are lower, the price of food is rising, the welfare state is under pressure to cut, cut, cut.

In the letter, the religious leaders said that the period up to Easter was a "sorrowful and deep reflection" of our multi faith society and that we, as a nation should "begin rising to the challenge of this national crisis". Their precise request was for an all party inquiry into the causes of hunger and food poverty in this country today.

Figures released by the Trussell Trust (the Christian charity that is the UK's biggest food bank network) showed an increase in use in 2013-14 of more than 163%. That’s nearly a million people, in a country with a population of 63 million.

This is the second call from leaders of religious communities for the Government to take action on food poverty.  In February, the Daily Mirror published a letter signed by 27 bishops saying that Cameron had a moral duty to act on the rise in food poverty.

The Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, said "What we are saying to the Government is ... can you at least acknowledge that there is a real problem here? It's incredible that in a country as relatively wealthy as ours, where we talk of economic recovery, there are still people who have to depend on food handouts to feed their families."

It’s a complicated situation. The Chairman of the Trust says the figures are the  "just the tip of the iceberg" and that over 50% of food parcels go to those reliant on benefits and are facing cuts or delays in payments.
But a spokesman from the Department for Work and Pensions said the figures could be misleading due to double counting i.e. people that had visited a food bank more than once.

 "We're spending £94bn a year on working age benefits so that the welfare system provides a safety net to millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs. The truth is that the employment rate is the highest it's been for five years and our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty."
The fact (accurate or not, because children must eat) is that 913,138 people – including 330,205 children – were the beneficiaries of its food parcels in 2013-14.
That does not include local independent food banks or soup kitchens.
Or those that go without because they are ashamed, or they go hungry, or there is simply no food back nearby.
At the moment, the government has introduced sanctions for those on benefits i.e. if you miss a job interview, your benefits will be interrupted, probably stopped for one month.
 With my MIE Scottish Correspondent hat on, I got a few facts and figures on what was going on north of the border.
As in the rest of the UK, nobody can just turn up at a food bank and get a parcel, they have to be referred by a social worker, job centre staff or a religious leader.  72,000 people visited a food bank this year from 14,000 last year, among them were 23,000 children. The population of Scotland is just over 5 million.  Most of those who visit food banks are in work, but very low paid work.  If people visit a food bank more than 3 times in 6 months, they are referred back to the welfare services to see if they can get more help with their plan to ‘break out of poverty’

A food parcel consists of food with good nutritional value and a long shelf life, tins of stew, pasta, instant mash and dried milk.  Last year while the numbers visiting food banks increased by 107%, there was only a 76% increase in the number of banks themselves, there are 40 on Scotland, which have collected 700 tons of donations.  Another five are opening soon.  They do not take supermarkets’ out of date food, but ask shoppers to buy one or two extra items and donate them on the way out the door from doing their weekly shop.
The food banks UK wide are not supported by the Government but the Scottish Government has announced a minimum of a million pounds support package for food banks.


This is a direct lift from the Trussler charity website.
“For Charlotte, the food bank was a life saver…
21 year-old college student Charlotte had not eaten properly for weeks and could not afford gas to heat her flat when she came to the food bank in January. After leaving state care she was determined to make something of her life and was funding herself through college. Working two evening jobs to make ends meet, she was made redundant from both within a month. As a 21-year-old in full time education, with no children, she did not qualify for benefits. She sold everything she had and, with nowhere else to turn, she asked her local councillor for help; they referred her to the food bank. When she arrived she was ill, dehydrated and in the first stages of malnutrition. For Charlotte, the food bank was a life saver. She says she has no idea what she would have done without it. She was so impressed by the support she received that she began volunteering at the food bank.”

As the advert on the TV says, in a country with the seventh strongest economy on the face of the planet, why are folk going hungry?

Caro 25/04/2014


  1. Thank you for this. I have no statistics for the USA, but I do know something is very wrong. My fear is that it will get worse.

  2. Thanks Lil. It seems to be a largely ignored crisis that no political party will tackle head on. They seem to be squibbling about what will happen to the Union Jack flag post independence when some of the population are going hungry. Slight lack of priority there!!

  3. I read this, and it is no wonder that the new Michael Piketty book "On Capital" has made such an international stir. We have a bad and growing problem of income inequality in the developed world, and of course even more extreme situations in the developing world. I think it can be fixed, but do our political systems have the ability and the will to fix it?

  4. The politicians have the ability, but lack the will I fear. There is a growing sense that they will be 'shown up' by the leaders of the spiritual community and the everyday folk making their small but significant donations because they do see the problem around them.

  5. Deputy Clegg and Shadow Milliband, I can see them now, hand in hand, charging off to battle injustice in all forms. But what less could you expect from a duo whose names when punched into a browser (even in Greece) yield as first hits two legendary doers of good deeds, "Deputy Dawg" and (coupled with "the") "The Shadow"

    Now if only they can get that fellow with the first name "Prime"--no superhero there, just something about having his number--to join in the cause, perhaps the poor will actually stand a chance of standing again. Or at least eating.

    It's a subject that disgraces the entire "developed" world as income inequality insidiously works toward imposing a caste system upon the West.

  6. I sympathize. In my city, -- New York -- 1.3 million people don't have enough food - - and this in supposedly the richest city in the country. And 22$ of the children don't have enough to eat.
    Food banks have run out of donations and food as the demand has grown while income has decreased. The economic crisis has affected contributors.
    The federal government passed a farm bill this winter, which cut food stamp funding by $8 billion.
    And while the Senate passed the extension of unemployment benefits months after they ran out, the House refuses to even consider it. Meanwhile, jobless people are losing homes and apartments.
    What callousness and cruelty exists. I think while some politicians have the will to fix the growing problems of income inequality, many do not care. They only care about the tax rate going up for the wealthy.
    We who live over here have to hear this all the time as social programs are cut in crucial services.
    I think all we have is our voices and our feet and we all have to speak out and do something.
    I appreciate your post about conditions in Britain.

  7. Like Kathy, I live in a place where I am surrounded by the super rich. Billionaires are buying $20 million condos and warehousing them, as investments. One city official called high-rise luxury condominiums "safe deposit boxes in the sky." At the same time, the homeless shelters are overflowing. The working poor are starving and homeless. And in my country, the powerful thugs on the Supreme Court have fixed it so that the super rich can control the electoral process. The whole world seems to be headed for the social arrangements of Tsarist Russia or Imperial China.

  8. And, for those who don't read the NY Times regularly, there was an article about the fact that the U.S. middle class (whatever is left of it) is falling behind their peers in Northern Europe and elsewhere in advanced industrial countries.
    It reviewed that the superrich are getting richer and the middle-class and poor, poorer, and that the wealth is distributed in social programs, etc., much less than in other similar economies.
    We over here know this. We see it every day. We see the opulent wealth and the unemployment and food bank lines. We see people who earn minimum wage or thereabouts work two and three jobs to feed families.