Food bank use has, for another year running, dramatically increased as more and more people – even those in work – bear the weight of government austerity that’s brought a crisis usually only experienced in third-world countries straight into our own backyard.
The Trussell Trust, which runs the largest network of food banks in the UK, released its latest figures today (April 15) showing that food bank use remains at record levels, rising a full two per cent from last year.
An astounding 1,109,309 three-day emergency food supplies were provided by the charity’s 424 food banks this year, up from 1,084,604 in 2014/15. Of this, nearly half a million of these supplies went to children.
While the government attributes rising food bank use to the mere fact that more food banks exist now than years ago, the facts tell a different story.
A survey of Trussell Trust food banks found that changes and delays to benefits were the main cause of the rise in food bank use – accounting for 42 per cent of all referrals. Low wages accounted for nearly one in four of all referrals, suggesting, yet again, that work is not necessarily a route out of poverty in austerity Britain.
For the first time, the Trussell Trust also paired up with the data scientists, business model specialists and academics to create the UK’s first foodbank data mapping tool, charting crises leading to foodbank use, and comparing 18 months of foodbank data with deprivation indices from the 2011 census and other open data.
The preliminary findings from this project confirm what the Trussell Trust has found – that food poverty is more pronounced in areas where people are unable to work because of long-term sickness and disability, as well as in areas where more people are in skilled manual work.
“Following hard on the heels of the billions stashed abroad by the rich and powerful we have today’s heart-rending report from the Trussell Trust that hundreds of thousands of our fellow-citizens, including children, are struggling, one step away from starvation, in the fifth richest economy in the world,” said Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.
“If anything demonstrated the fierce and burning inequality engulfing our country, it is the repugnant contrast between a rich elite who can enjoy tax-light arrangements for the cash they have squirreled away in the British Virgin Islands with the tales of daily despair emanating from the trust’s 424 foodbanks,” he added.
“Most of those using food banks are in work, but are referred to the trust because of low wages and benefit delays brought about by this government’s chaotic welfare upheaval.
“What will it take for this government to accept that six years of mindless austerity not only fails economically but cause tremendous human misery?
“Wages are still £40-a-week down on 2010 levels and personal debt remains the highest in Europe, but it is children who are bearing the brunt of hard hearted ministerial policies,” McCluskey went on to say.
“It is a national disgrace and those on the Conservative benches should not just hang their heads in shame but act now to block the further cuts their party plans to unleash on ordinary people and struggling families.”
Food bank use in Northern Ireland has become particularly acute – numbers receiving emergency food aid in Northern Ireland have hit a record high as demand surged by 47 per cent this year.
Northern Ireland figures are strongly linked to poverty pay and increasing proportions of working poor.
Speaking in response to figures released by the Trussell Trust, Unite Ireland Secretary, Jimmy Kelly, said they reflected the failure of the Northern Ireland Executive to act to raise incomes for the working poor.
“The figures released by the Trussell Trust today are truly shocking and show food poverty is a growing problem in Northern Ireland,” he said. “Over the last year the numbers of three-day emergency food packages distributed here rose from 17,425 to 25,755 or by a staggering 47 per cent.
“The revelation that 11,125 of those packages went to children exposes the extent to which we are failing to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
“The Trussell Trust indicates uptake here is largely among those living on ‘low incomes’,” Kelly added. “In the rest of the UK, other factors such as the high cost of living or problems accessing benefits are more important but in Northern Ireland the main problem is our increasingly low wage economy.
“These scandalous statistics reflect the NI Executive’s abject failure to address the issue of poverty pay and the burgeoning numbers of ‘working-poor’ households.
“The Executive has the power to address this problem,” Kelly argued. “They can enforce adoption of the genuine Living Wage rate by public bodies and make full Living Wage accreditation a condition for private companies seeking to obtain grant-aid support or win public procurement contracts.
“The incoming Executive should extend sectoral bargaining to those sections of the economy with the lowest pay rates and extend protections for those households dependent on benefits. In light of these figures, more of the same cannot be an option.”
This Saturday (April 16) Unite urges everyone to take this same stand against austerity and join us at the People’s Assembly march for Health, Homes, Jobs and Education. Find out more about how you can get involved here.