I Dream of A UK Where Foodbanks Don't Exist

The Archbishop of Canterbury was in the news yesterday, saying that he’s more shocked by food poverty in the UK than suffering in African refugee camps. He said that although it’s less serious, a British family having to turn to a foodbank for help is more shocking than suffering in Africa because it’s so unexpected.


He’s right, of course. The UK is one of the richest countries in the world, and yet people are increasingly resorting to foodbanks in order to get through tough times. I’m glad the foodbanks are there to help people, but it absolutely disgusts me that they should need to be. To me, it seems that the government are happy to allow charities such as the Trussell Trust bridge a gap that should never have been allowed to develop.

It’s easy to sit in judgement of people who use foodbanks, to say they should manage their money better, or that more people are using foodbanks only because more are aware of them. It’s easy to say that if you’ve no money you should sell your possessions before resorting to charity.

The fact is that nobody plans for this to happen. Nobody plans to become a single parent with no money; nobody thinks “oh well, I’ll carry on as normal and if I run out of cash I’ll just go to a foodbank.” People who end up having to rely on a charity to feed their children are mostly ashamed, and horrified by the situation they find themselves in. Archbishop Justin Welby is right to be shocked; I certainly am. And disgusted, too.

Today a parliamentary report backed by the Archbishop will outline plans to eliminate hunger in Britain by 2020, and to urge ministers and the food industry to act.

Am I the only person who thinks that “by 2020” is a bit of a cop-out? Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad the report has been produced, and I’m glad the Archbishop of Canterbury has helped to shine the media spotlight on something that is genuinely shocking… but five years? It’s disgusting that things have been allowed to get into this situation in the first place, and now we’re allowing five years for it to be resolved? During which time of course, there is a general election and food poverty will again become an electioneering tool rather than a real crisis that normal people are living with every day.

The  current government blame the Labour government; the Labour Party blame the coalition. The fact is that successive governments over several years have allowed this to happen. Recent benefit cuts have exacerbated the situation, but the situation was already there. People were already struggling to make ends meet. While I cannot in any way defend the current government and their outrageous poor-hating antics, the benefit cuts did not start this fire. That said, while they still insist on their reverse Robin Hood tactics, the situation will not be resolved – in five, ten or fifty years.

My MP is one of the people who worked on the All Party Parliamentary Group behind this report… the same MP who voted for the Bedroom Tax which has caused so many to lose their financial footing.

This government has done such a monumental anti-PR job on the poor and disenfranchised of this country, it will take more than five years just to dismantle their rhetoric and get the general public to believe there is a real crisis. After years of being told that people are  just being a bit crap with their cash – or worse, deliberately defrauding the system, the people who believe the headlines won’t suddenly start to support attempts to resolve a problem they’ve been led to believe is the fault of the lazy poor, the feckless benefit claimants, the dishonest immigrants.

What I would like to see is government ministers walking the walk. I would like to see the MPs who set the policies, who blame the poor and the benefit claimants, the likes of IDS and George Osborne, actually having to live on the budgets so many of us are sticking to in order to survive. Not just for their food budgets, but for their rent, their council tax, their electricity. I would like to see IDS with his last fiver in his hand, trying to decide whether to put credit on his electricity meter so as to warm his house, or buy food for his child. I would like to see them live like this, and then continue to make the policies and headlines that vilify those of us doing it day in, day out.

If the policy makers were making decisions about whether to feed their child or keep them warm, on a daily basis, we wouldn’t be looking at a five year wait to fix this problem. The problem would never have arisen, if they understood, on a fundamental basis, how the rest of us struggle to make ends meet.

Vicky Charles

Vicky is a single mother, writer and card reader.


Amanda · 11/12/2014 at 08:38

Absolutely fantastic post, you’ve written what so many of us feel but cannot quite verbalise. Thanks xx

jaklumen · 14/12/2014 at 08:53

Here by way of Suzie’s #SundayBlogShare.

I’m in the US, and I wasn’t aware of this issue. I think I can understand the difference of opinion to a certain degree.

This is my situation: my wife Cimmy & I are both on… let’s see, you’d call it disability pension, right? We usually call it “Social Security disability” as it’s maintained by our Social Security Administration. We did our very best over about 16 years to be self-sufficient, but it was a long slide from collecting unemployment, to benefits (food benefits only at first, then financial benefits) welfare-to-work programs as required, and then finally disability pension. We left food benefits completely a few years ago when we applied for my 7-yr old son with autism for disability pension (as doing so eliminated those food benefits). We did so pretty much so that there was more money for food for him and his older sister.

We still have to utilize food banks. This is still despite some extra help from my folks, generous gifts of food from other friends and family (we live in a small town with a strong agricultural base, so I often have to preserve some of it by drying, freezing, or home canning), and so on. Though complaints here usually have to do with financial self-sufficiency independent of government help, we still have similar attitudes: the poor need to stop buying chips, candy, cookies, and soda (or anything “fancy”, yes, this replaces the old “welfare queen buying steak” refrain), the working/laborer immigrants (especially any so-called illegal immigrants) are abusing social services, and generally, that both groups are LAZY.

Also, very few politicians here know the reality– and any that actually do venture to examine what the allotted budgets are… they are shocked. What was well-documented was the governor of Oregon’s reaction- he learned REALLY fast that some food staples are too expensive with that budget. I’m also not too surprised of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” sentiments; crony capitalism may be amok in the U.S., but, I’m getting the impression it’s quickly becoming a global problem, and as money drives politics, it’s been easier to fleece the poor.

    Vicky Charles · 14/12/2014 at 10:18

    Thank you so much for your comment; life must have been really stressful for you and your family over the last few years.
    Here the food banks have been set up by charities (usually Christian groups) to help people who can’t afford food on a short term basis. You have to be referred to them by a professional – so your doctor or similar – and they then provide you with 3 days’ food.
    The government have done a great job in convincing the general public that people only use food banks because they’re lazy/bad with money/trying to fleece them. They say more people use them because there are more of them about, or because they are more aware of them. From experience, it takes a lot to be able to admit you need some help to feed your family, and it’s the absolute last resort to go to a food bank for help.
    My local MP has been all over the local paper talking about his involvement in the group that put out this most recent report, but not so long ago he voted in favour of an arbitrary cut in benefits for anyone who had a “spare” room – and their definition of “spare” is pretty hard to comprehend.
    You are so right – it’s easier to fleece the poor than to stand up to the large companies or rich individuals who just don’t fancy paying a proportionate amount of tax.

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