The Guardian, Wednesday 18 December 2013
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‘Food banks are not a negative thing – they are evidence of communities getting together to try to help their neighbours, but they should not be needed in one of the richest countries in the world.’ Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
Two weeks ago, along with the Trussell Trust and the Unite union, I launched a petition in the Daily Mirror calling for parliament to debate hunger and food bank use in the UK.
By the end of the first day, 63,000 people had signed it. By the end of the second day, that number topped 100,000, the usual tipping point for a petition to be discussed in parliament. On the third day, we received confirmation that the Labour party was going to raise it as an opposition day debate in the House of Commons.
A week after it launched, we handed the petition in to parliament. It had over 130,000 signatures on it, and the number is still rising.
The volume of support for the petition and the speed at which the debate was secured was only a slight surprise – as food banks have barely been out of the public eye since Oxfam released its report, Walking The Breadline, which showed that half a million people in the UK were relying on emergency food handouts in order to feed themselves and their families.
When I spoke at the Conservative party conference (and, just to clarify, they revoked my pass a few days before the event because I was a “dissenter”, but I got it back with a bit of a public backlash…), several senior Tories agreed with me when I said we needed an inquiry into the causes of food bank use in the UK, and the alarming rise in the number of people receiving referrals.
Cards were exchanged, promises made, emails sent to arrange meetings. Several months later, the empty promises have petered out. It seems the old adage is true – if you want something done, you should do it yourself.
Trussell Trust food banks provide three days’ worth of nutritionally balanced food and support to people in crisis. Over 90% of food given out by food banks is donated by the public. Every food bank user is referred by a frontline professional such as a doctor, social worker, or school liaison officer.
Food banks also refer recipients to other agencies to help resolve the underlying cause of the crisis, whether that is a family support worker, drug and alcohol intervention, debt advice, domestic abuse specialists or other agencies.
In themselves, food banks are not a negative thing– they are evidence of a community coming together to meet the needs of its neighbours. But the need for food banks in Britain is a disgrace, and that’s what I want investigated.
Hundreds of people have emailed to say they have asked their MP to represent them in parliament, to stand up for hungry people in their constituencies – people in work, out of work, living on their own, with children, without children, all struggling to put food on the table in one of the richest countries in the world.
Guto Bebb, Conservative MP for Aberconwy, responded: “There are some who appear to use food banks while being able to smoke and pay for a Sky TV package.” One Tory minister fobbed off a constituent by saying he was unable to attend the debate as the issue wasn’t in his ministerial remit.
I’m not going into parliament to point fingers or lay blame. I hope to achieve an open discussion and debate about an issue that has been ignored by the government for far too long. Together we have achieved more than I thought possible in just a fortnight, and every extra voice strengthens the campaign for an open and honest debate.
Thank you to everyone who has signed the petition so far – I’m off to address MPs in a lunchtime lobby event in order to share my experiences and try to challenge the damaging and distracting “fags and Sky TV” rhetoric that gets rolled out every time someone dares to mention a food bank. For those that haven’t signed the petition, there’s still time at: change.org/foodbanks
First published in the Guardian, 18th December, and can be found online here.
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MxJackMonroe