It is the state that is shirking its duties, not the parents, Mr Gove.

As half a million people are reportedly reliant on the distribution of emergency food from food banks, the Government seems adamant to blame feckless parenting and a ‘scrounger mentality’ for the rise of food poverty in Britain.

First, Lord Freud commented in the House of Lords this week that there was no link between the recent welfare cuts and the rise in demand for food banks.

In a gross slur against the desperate families referred to food banks for help, he claimed that people were turning up just because there was ‘free food’, and not out of necessity – which simply isn’t true.

Surveys show that one in five people suffering from food insecurity would not consider turning to a food bank for help, as they find the stigma attached to ‘asking for food’ humiliating.

Then in today’s news, Michael Gove blames child poverty and hunger on reckless, irresponsible parenting and, in doing so, distracts from and denies the reality that most people using food banks are doing so as a result of benefit delays, sanctions, low income and unemployment. Other factors such as illness and domestic abuse certainly play a part, but these are the key causes, cited time and time again by food bank users.

Many parents tell of going hungry themselves in order to feed their children, as the biting austerity measures wound family incomes – or lack thereof – deeper and deeper. It’s hardly the picture of ‘feckless parenting’ that the Education Secretary paints.

I was a food bank user myself for six months, while unemployed, seeking work and surviving on just £10 a week for food for myself and my son.

He did not go hungry during that period – but I did, frequently, sobbing in bed at night in a freezing cold flat, suicidal, desperate, and alone – but adamantly clinging in for the sake of the then two year old boy fast asleep in his bed.

In the US, food banks are an integrated part of the welfare provision, a permanent fixture.

If food banks are here to stay, the responsibility for feeding the poor and vulnerable will have shifted from the shoulders of the Government, to the shoulders of charities and not for profit sector. Although it is admirable that these organisations are coming together to meet a real and desperate need, they should be seen as a temporary sticking plaster, and not a license for the Government to shirk its civic duties towards its citizens.

In terms of feckless parenting, it is this Government, and not the casualties of the shrinking welfare state that are shirking their duties – and sending its children, its citizens, to school, to work, and to bed hungry.

Gove, Freud et al need once and for all to look child poverty and hunger in its hideous face, and commit to tackling the underpinning root causes, instead of casting around to see who else can be blamed.

The Government ought to be taking steps towards investigating and tackling poverty, rather than tossing the blame around from Labour to the Tories, from those rogue charities handing out free food, to the feckless parents squandering it on God only knows what. It’s easy to say ‘it’s not my fault’. It’s more difficult to come up with solutions. Or is it? Because I came up with fourteen off the top of my head in Parliament last month, and I’m sure there’s more if I think hard enough.

Increasing social housing. Paying housing benefit monthly instead of four weekly to align with rent and mortgage payments and assist with cash flow problems. Payment of benefits quickly upon application, especially with the death of the Crisis Loan earlier this year. A commitment to a living wage would mean more families paying tax, less claimed in benefits, and a better living standard for all.

We need to stop just pulling people out of the river.

It’s time to go upstream, and find out why they’re falling in.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

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24 Comments »

  1. Having just read this article about the Republican party and what they’ve tried/are trying to do to the US system of food banks – you wonder if anything is safe

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/03/republican-party-demise-continues?CMP=twt_gu

    Reading almost makes you feel slightly better about the state of our country, even if it is in a complete mess. People with views like theirs would be singled out as looneys and not worth electing, how they get votes in the US is beyond me. forgive me always mentioning the US, I’m very much in fight or flight mode about the prospect of living there given the DOMA repeal. I realise it’s very off topic.

    I didn’t know that you had to be referred to food banks here until you detailed it on your blog – how can politicians who are choosing to make such controversial statements not do basic research into just who is eligible for this help. (i’m pretty sure no one wants my 2011 tinned tomatoes tho :P)

  2. I thought of you this morning when I saw Goves’ comments.

    He hasn’t got a clue & it’s scary that people like him are in charge of policy & decisions that affect us all.

  3. Those of us who were alive remember this same old story. Each night in the early 80s we saw BBC News “map” of firms who were closing and the number of people put on the unemployed statistics. Big factories, small factories, a few hundred here, a few thousand there. Rarely did we see the map show “new firm, new jobs”. It was relentless, night after night after night. And as the unemployment figures grew and grew, the way the Government counted them changed and changed again to negotiate the figures down. More kids were put on YOP and YTS, getting them off the books, more were told they were only entitled to be on jobseekers allowance for 6 months, then they were put on income support (or some such) so they were then not counted on the books.
    And then… the tirade against the “wasters and spongers” started, led by Thatcher’s bully boys like Tebbit, with snide comments in The Sun and other Government-friendly national papers. The reason for the high unemployment figures was not that companies were closing, nationalised industries were being shut down by the government and made private on a smaller workforce. No, it was because people could not be bothered to work. They would not “get on their bikes” as Tebbit assured the party faithful.
    So Jack, here we are again, three decades later. Again it is the fault of the poor, not the powerful

  4. I remember Britain in the 80’s (I was a teenager) and Thatcher and her thugs. Sad that they are trying it again.

    • Sadder still that many who lived through that period were unable to remember it correctly and voted for this shower yet again!

  5. I wrote a blog post right at the back end of 2011 about two men who had been forced to steal vegetables from allotments in order to feed their families (http://emmacooper.org/blog/vegetable-parade). I am glad that there are more food banks around now, so that people don’t have to resort to such desperate measures – but you’re right, we need to be concerned about why so many people need them to avoid starvation.

  6. In the US the one big cause of poverty and the biggest weakness of life here- healthcare. Expensive, non-emergency care only just becoming accessible to many with the healthcare reforms, but still impractically unaffordable, and potentially debt-crippling.

    If you live in or near a large city food banks from charities and churches are easily accessible, helpful and supportive; for people without transportation in rural areas- it can be tough eg http://www.americanwinterfilm.com/ Many churches run meal/grocery delivery programmes for elderly and disabled, like ‘meals on wheels’.

    It’s different rules each state but- it’s so much easier to make a living here, especially to start and run a business or be self-employed. We left the UK because of an unfair tax called IR35 which has since been rescinded, but when I looked into coming back, there seems a lot of red tape and regulations, it was off-putting to say the least, and charges/taxes/licenses…I would worry about inadvertently breaking the law through non-compliance.

    And where would I live? With family or rent a room in a shared house…as opposed to my owned 2 bed 2 bath home here with a swimming pool…why has the government left the housing stock to market forces then started taxing people who live in homes built for a different generation? What exactly is considered an acceptable home for the increasingly normative one or two person family? If I work hard what will I have to show for it if the jobs are mainly low-wage and establishing a business is an uphill struggle, then I’m not supposed to have a spare room if I claim housing benefit?

    So it’s easy for government ministers to say to people get on with it – when successive layers of bureaucracy and out-of-touch decisions have made it difficult to do so, and undermined what people strive for.

    Margaret Thatcher once said ‘there is no such thing as society; there are only individuals and their families’. And people need opportunities for themselves and their families, stability and a marketplace where more than huge companies can achieve wealth which flows off to overseas investors or the super-rich.

    • Yeah, what’s the point of being hard working when you can only get a crummy low wage dead end job? It is a complete disincentive. You notice of course that wages for people at the top and even those in the Middle are usually much much higher and enable all those people to plan for better lives, get on the housing ladder and have a future. What this government are saying (and doing) is that you have no future unless you get lucky and become rich, but most people don’t want millions they just want a fair wage and the chance to get on in life.

  7. Everything the state touches it turns to stone.

    The welfare state is bigger now than it has ever been and yet it fails to address itself properly to the poorest and most vulnerable, those you might think would be the first priority. In many fields it crowds out alternative provision.

    It is most interested in creating dependency to secure the votes of a fearful clientele.

    Its concerns are bureaucratic concerns.

    Responsive, selfless care and giving is the province of individuals and charities.

  8. I think that people such as Mr Gove are blinkered in that it suits them to focus on those who work the system one way or another. You only have to pick up a popular right wing newspaper to regularly read of a family having countless children to obtain seemingly endless benefit payments. Or a family that is being housed at the nation’s expense in a mansion house in a swanky part of town at an astonishing monthly rental cost. The trouble is that everyone is being tarred with the same brush. For the vast majority of people in genuine need of assistance, they find themselves suffering through no fault of their own. People such as Mr Gove need to be dragged out of their cosy little worlds and made to see what is really going on. I reckon that’s right up your street Jack. You’ve made a good start. Good luck!

    • ‘Or a family that is being housed at the nation’s expense in a mansion house in a swanky part of town at an astonishing monthly rental cost.’

      Of course, if that’s poor Working class people or Immigrants or members of an ethnic minority, then listen to the howls and jeers and vile slurs from the Right-wing. Nary a murmur if it’s rich people getting tax breaks or hand outs hey?

  9. I had my weekly supermarket delivery from Sainsbury’s this morning. I was making polite conversation with the driver and asked if he had many more deliveries to do after mine. He said not many, but that one of them had 37 crates and that it was the food bank in Southend. I said something along the lines of “Oh that’s great, does that mean Sainsbury’s are now donating their unsold food to food banks?” to which he replied that he wasn’t sure, but that he can’t believe the figures on how many people are accessing food banks now and thinks that people are just jumping on the bandwagon and ‘trying to get free food’. I can’t believe people really do think like this, especially our government. There probably is small minority of parents that have, for whatever reason, contributed to their need to access food banks (I am thinking substance/alcohol misuse etc). But there are a great deal more who are struggling for the reasons you have set out above.
    I think a big problem these days is that it is so hard to save any money – many of us that are managing don’t have any spare money to save for a rainy day as the cost of living/property etc versus wages just doesn’t allow for it. Then when redundancy/illness/relationship breakdown occurs there is nothing to fall back on. I left home and bought my own flat in the late 90’s but there is no way I would be able to do that now as wages haven’t risen in proportion to property and rental prices. I worry for my children and how they will ever be able to make their way in the World let alone save for a rainy day!
    PS – I politely put the Sainsbury’s man right about food banks and their users 🙂

  10. I volunteer in a local food bank, we are independent because joining trefoil food banks cost more money. We rely on donations from the public.
    I am also a mother of four, and my daughter couldnt believe when I brought a leg of lamb in Sainsburys last Saturday… security tag protected!!

  11. “In the US, food banks are an integrated part of the welfare provision, a permanent fixture.”

    Trust me Jack you do not want to look to the US system as an example of how to do it. The food banks in my community are all totally reliant on charitable donations, they are NOT part of welfare provision. Food is a basic need that, if someone is genuinely unable to provide for themselves, should be met by the population as a whole via our taxes. The number of Food Banks in the US is not an example of a welfare system that is working but rather one that is failing its people. We have so many Food Banks because so many very, very low income people, who do not have the financial means to put enough food on their table, still do not even qualify for Food Stamps! They have no choice but to turn to the charity of Food Banks, which is both humiliating and not the most cost effective way to get food to the people that need it.

    For example at my local supermarket there are bags of basic shelf stable foods available at the check out for customers to add to their purchases to be donated to one of the local Food Banks. So those of us who donate pay full retail price for food to donate to the Food Bank when if it were funded by welfare programs as it should be my same $ contribution (via taxes) would buy double (or more) the amount of food that my donation does.

    Just as in the UK the need has increased over the last few years and yet the Republicans response is to make cuts to the Food Stamps that the very poorest in our society rely on.
    http://www.scpr.org/blogs/news/2013/06/19/14047/house-makes-cuts-to-food-stamps-in-farm-bill/

    If Food Stamps were funded as they should be and available to those who need them there would be no need for Food Banks except for emergency situations.

    I realize you know all of that but I just want to make the point that Food Banks in the US are no model to be followed!

  12. Gove, very unfortunately, doesnt have much of a clue about anything. He spouts utter rubbish about education, on an almost daily basis, with no idea. He is causing irreversible damage to the children of this country. His latest comments show his real ignorance

    • He either doesn’t have a clue or he does but chooses to follow his own an his party’s agenda rather than really providing what is needed (and that goes for others too). I haven’t quite worked out which. The one would make him an utter ignoramus and the other indicated that he is evil, selfish and uncaring. Which?

  13. I’ve just discovered your blog via this post & I couldn’t agree more with your comments – particularly regarding the unrepresentative nature of politicians. Technically, I’m a politician myself (despite not being rich, male or middle-aged). I only got into this shoddy business because I felt I had to at least try to fight this government’s shameless downward class warfare. After a year in local government, I’m so despondent, i’m close to giving up & retreating to meet the immediate needs of my young family, rather than fighting tooth & nail for their not-so-distant futures. Having said that, your blog has at least reminded me why I ever thought it was worth trying in the first place, so I’ll keep reading.

  14. The comments that Jack has responded to are yet more to belittle anyone struggling and to misinform those in work and so far untouched by having to try to claim benefits. More attempts by the State to ridicule decent people as is happening with media reporting people who need Employment Support Allowance and Disability Living Allowance are probably cheats. There’s a tv programme airing about the history of people who needed workhouses if they lost their job or got ill and couldn’t pay their rent or buy food and last week it said anyone applying was deliberately belittled from their first contact to make them ashamed of failing. I really appreciate Jack’s blog as she has given us the truth about trying to live on benefits. Social media must build on what Jack is doing, the more of the Truth the general population hear must redress the balance for empathy, compassion and our Welfare system being run the same way to support people at a time of need. Oh and staff like the housing benefits officer finding themselves in a job better suited to their innate skills.

  15. Gove is a man of tolerance and acceptance! He is happy to accept and tolerate, child malnutrition, masses waiting for food, divided and unequal educational provision, private sector influence in state educational establishments, hidden agendas, indifference to deprivation and poverty, hopelessness and despair.

    I’m not sure how a government would punish the poorest with strategic and ideological efficiency, but I do know it would look a lot like what the Tories are doing to the UK right now!

    All the Tories need now is a renaissance of the workhouse.

    still! into each life some rain must fall.

  16. It is now obvious that the failings of the rich are again being heaped on the poorest, perhaps the most vulnerable and certainly those who cannot really fight back because they are too busy struggling just to get by. Are we ‘all in it together’? I could say that poor people are certainly ‘in’ something and I won’t say to be polite!

    The heartlessness and smugness of some of these people in government now is breath-taking and reminds me of the same people in the 19th century who, creating misery and hardship for people already suffering in want, then go on to arrogantly add insult to injury.

    The bigger picture to all of this is that we now have such a skewed and unequal economic system, that basically works for a small-ish minority and exploits and throws into hardship many more, even when many people have jobs. Yes, they work but the minimum wage is not enough, it’s not enough to pay rent and bills and food and necessities and there’s no way that people can save for a rainy day or to put a down-payment on a house. Then we have the rich who it seems now just do not want to pay meaningful amounts of tax on their massive wealth, and also corporations and big businesses. And the present government is happy to turn a blind eye to it all. Then, the people who are supposed to be fighting for equal rights and the ‘make poverty history’ brigade, seem good at talking but actually doing and achieving very little. The reality is for very wealthy people and even affluent Middle class people, that they don’t want things to change because many of them benefit from the unfair economic inequalities that are being promoted and implemented. And then when things get bad as they are now, the brainwashing, the mindless attackers of those who are poor, the terms like ‘feckless’ ‘chav’ ‘council estate scum’ and so on and so on. Adding insult to injury, the barely concealed contempt from the right-wing press and other hard-line types who have zero compassion for anyone other than themselves.

    That people are going hungry in a very wealthy 21st democracy is beyond abhorrent, and yet I do not see anyone talking about in any meaningful way, no concerned Middle class crusading journalists (where’ve they all gone? Tuscany?) few if any politicians, all busy scoring points off each other, and even churches with the odd and rare exception.

  17. Management of benefits is moving away from a central administration and increasingly being implemented at a council level. But every time an extra parcel of this responsibility comes to the local council they fumble the ball and inconvenience (surely too mild a word!) more families by their inefficiencies and lack of preparedness. Some things are better done locally – improvement grants for ageing housing stock, for instance – but prying into people’s affairs is better done from a distance, centrally – and processed quickly.

  18. I am so moved by your blog, which I discovered today. You write with passion, logic and understandable anger. Your son is so very lucky to have you, you are fighting for him like a lioness – and he will thank you for it when he is old enough to understand what you are doing for him. I pray every day that the idiotic coalition government will get scuppered soon, and that some balance can get restored to this country. Maximum respect to you.

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