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