“I’m scared to eat sometimes in case we run out of food.” That’s what one foodbank user told Philip Alston, the United Nations (UN) rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights during a visit to the UK earlier this year.
Mr Alston’s report on poverty in the UK found the Conservative government had deliberately inflicted ‘great misery’ on the most vulnerable people in Britain – the fifth richest country in the world. One impact of ‘punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous’ austerity policies has been an 85 per cent rise in foodbank reliance over the last five years.
This year we saw reports of thousands of nurses being forced to rely on foodbanks as the reality of in-work poverty levels continued to hit home5. An estimated 60,000 nurses in the UK used on a foodbank in 2018, according to a survey by Cavell Nurses’ Trust.
Today, I publish my latest Hungry Christmas report which finds that, since last year, the Tory government has overseen another 15 per cent rise in foodbank dependency in my constituency.
Low Income continues to be the single biggest reason why people are forced to seek emergency food aid. In the UK, there are 14 million people living in poverty. Four and a half million of those are children. And seven million are from working households. A shocking 60 per cent of Britons in poverty are working. Despite low headline unemployment figures12, insecure work and zero hour contracts are soaring13 while the growth of underemployment reveals the lie at the heart of the official employment statistics.
Over the last year, we have also seen continued benefit freezes15 and a huge expansion of the damaging changes wrought by Universal Credit. A broken and failed policy the UN relabelled ‘universal discredit’. When taken together, almost 40 per cent of people cite benefit changes and delays as the main reasons they are pushed into crisis. Cross-party MPs have slammed Universal Credit as ‘pointlessly cruel’. In response, the government scrapped claimants’ £10 Christmas ‘bonus’; which has been paid since 1972.
Since 2010, we have seen the number of rough sleepers skyrocket by 169% under the Tories while homelessness has soared. In the South East, there are at least 27,000 people without a home. Poverty, homelessness and foodbank dependency are issues that are inexorably linked and have intensified in the last eight years. It is why, like last year, foodbanks remain one of Britain’s few booming industries.
Amidst all of the statistics, though, it’s easy to forget that each food parcel handed out goes to somebody in real and genuine need. From my visits to foodbanks, meeting both clients and volunteers, I have always been struck by the quiet desperation affecting people across my constituency.
During a visit to Portsmouth, I met Mary, a single parent who just couldn’t keep up with the cost of clothing and feeding her children. She would often go without food so her kids could eat. For her, the foodbank was a lifeline at a time of desperation.
This report aims to highlight the hardship faced this Christmas by thousands of Marys across the South East, and indeed up and down the country. It reveals the truly shameful underbelly of a British economy that is deliberately hidden from view by the government.
As wages fail to keep pace with the cost of living, which is, in turn, pushed up by the continuing Brexit shambles, and as the government continues to pushes ahead with Universal Credit, there is even less hope this year that the situation will improve.
Foodbanks are a lifeline to those in need across the South East but they continue to be a stain on the Tories’ record on poverty. Some will say poverty isn’t political. Greens reject this. Poverty is clearly political and, for us, its elimination will always be a top priority.