As the use of Foodbank continues to rise, why are people struggling to feed themselves in one of the richest countries on the planet?
On Wednesday night at the Tawney Dialogue, the shadow chancellor John McDonnell MP spoke of having begun his political career 40 years ago with the sense of optimism shared by his generation that we would have steady progress towards a better life for all. Instead, we find ourselves with “staggering levels of inequality” – he told the stories of people in his own constituency who have experienced benefit sanctions, housing problems and even found themselves without food on the table.
Today, the Trussell Trust have published their latest figures, showing that foodbank use remains at record levels, rising two percent on 2014-15 levels. For the second year running, over a million three-day emergency supply packages were given out by the organisation’s foodbanks across the country, and 40% of those went to children. In a political climate of austerity and increasingly harsh cuts to welfare, the figures also show that benefit delays and changes accounted for 42% of referrals.
The Trussell Trust have worked with data scientists and academics from the University of Hull to create the UK’s first foodbank data mapping tool to illustrate the countrywide picture. Early findings from this project reinforce Trussell Trust data which show benefit problems and low income to be the most significant drivers of foodbank use in the UK. It also shows a clear link between foodbank use and geographic areas of high deprivation.
The map of the UK which they have created is, at first glance, a map of where we have got it most wrong as a country. There are heat spots showing where economic deprivation, poor health and foodbank use all collide. The map also charts the crisis points which led individuals to use foodbanks, showing graphically the impact of benefit changes and delays, area by area.
It is also, however, a map which show we are trying to get it right. The red dots across representing foodbanks show 424 churches and local communities giving time and food to those who need it. 90% of the food given out by the charity is donated by the public. Many of the foodbanks also partner with local charities and agencies to provide debt counselling, housing support, legal advice, clothing and other services. Christians are showing up where it is needed most, offering practical help in times of crisis.
As John McDonnell reminded us, austerity is not just an economic theory, it’s a hard political choice which we’re living out. The people whose lives are most affected by it are real, not theoretical. The Work & Pensions Secretary, Stephen Crabb MP, recently said that ‘behind every statistic is a human being and perhaps sometimes in government we forget that’. Behind today’s shocking statistics from the Trussell Trust are hundreds of thousands of human beings, affected by welfare cuts and the benefit system. For these individuals, forgetting the human element is not something this, or any government, should ever be allowed to do.
So now, as Christians, how will we take action? Many of us are those already running foodbanks, or donating goods, or even campaigning noisily against austerity. For surely it is our role to ensure that the government does not forget the individual lives behind these dismaying statistics?
And yet how much more change could we effect, if we were the ones on the inside, making these decisions?
So don't just complain, write letters or shout from the sidelines – get involved – be a candidate – SHOW UP.
The Full Trussell Trust Report can be found here: https://www.trusselltrust.org/2016/04/15/foodbank-use-remains-record-high/
There is enough bread for us all if we share!