Guest blog: Food banks are feeding families - the government needs to face its responsibilities

(96 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 05-Jul-13 11:11:05

Food banks were in the news earlier this week, after Work and Pensions minister Lord Freud claimed that the recent hike in the number of families resorting to food handouts was not necessarily linked to growing poverty.

Mumsnet blogger Jack Monroe - whose blog A Girl Called Jack charts her family's life on the breadline and who recently gave evidence to parliament on poverty and hunger - says the government is shirking its responsibilities.


"Half a million people are reportedly reliant on the distribution of emergency food from food banks - but the Government seems intent on blaming feckless parenting and a 'scrounger mentality' for the rise of food poverty in Britain.

First, Lord Freud commented in the House of Lords that there was no link between the recent welfare cuts and the rise in demand for food banks.

Despite the evidence from the Trussell Trust that food bank use has soared 170% in the past year - with many referrals for help coming directly from the Department for Work and Pensions - Lord Freud insists that people don't really need the help.

In a gross slur against desperate families, he claimed that people were turning up just because there was 'free food', and not out of necessity - which simply isn't true. Surveys show that many people suffering from food insecurity wouldn't consider turning to a food bank for help: they find the stigma attached to 'asking for food' too humiliating.

And on Tuesday Michael Gove blamed child poverty and hunger on reckless, irresponsible parenting. In doing so, he denies the reality that most people using food banks do so as a result of benefit delays, sanctions, low income and unemployment. Other factors such as illness and domestic abuse certainly play a part - but these are the key causes, cited time and time again by food bank users.

Many parents tell of going hungry themselves in order to feed their children, as biting austerity measures cut deeper and deeper into family incomes, or lack thereof - hardly the picture of 'feckless parenting' painted by the Education Secretary.

I was a food bank user myself for six months, while unemployed, seeking work, and surviving on just £10 a week for food for myself and my son.

He didn't go hungry during that period - but I did, frequently, sobbing in bed at night in a freezing cold flat, suicidal, desperate, and alone - but adamantly clinging on, for the sake of the then two year old boy fast asleep in his bed.

If food banks become a permanent fixture, the responsibility for feeding the poor and vulnerable will have shifted from the shoulders of the Government, to the shoulders of charities and not for profit sector. Although it's admirable that these organisations are coming together to meet a real and desperate need, they should be seen as a temporary sticking plaster - not a license for the Government to shirk its civic duties towards its citizens.

In terms of feckless parenting, it is this Government, and not the casualties of the shrinking welfare state that are shirking their duties - and sending its children, its citizens, to school, to work, and to bed hungry. Gove, Freud et al need once and for all to look child poverty and hunger in its hideous face, and commit to tackling the underpinning root causes, instead of casting around to see who else can be blamed.

The Government ought to be taking steps towards investigating and tackling poverty, rather than tossing the blame around from Labour to the Tories, from those rogue charities handing out free food, to the feckless parents squandering it on God only knows what. It's easy to say 'it's not my fault'. It's more difficult to come up with solutions.

Or is it? Because I came up with fourteen off the top of my head in Parliament last month, and I'm sure there's more if I think hard enough.

Increasing social housing. Paying housing benefit monthly instead of four weekly to align with rent and mortgage payments and assist with cash flow problems. Payment of benefits quickly upon application, especially with the death of the Crisis Loan earlier this year. A commitment to a living wage would mean more families paying tax, less claimed in benefits, and a better living standard for all.

We need to stop just pulling people out of the river.

It's time to go upstream, and find out why they're falling in."

Jack Monroe
Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

LuisSuarezTeeth Sat 06-Jul-13 13:45:33

At the supermarket today, they were collecting from my food bank. I got a leaflet handed to me, which I placed in my bag and took out my calculator.

As I returned to the front of the store with my value brand items, in mental agony about feeding the children over the weekend, it occurred to me I may see the food bank people again soon.

Great blog, thank you.

LuisSuarezTeeth Sat 06-Jul-13 13:46:24

Sorry, collecting FOR my local food bank

elisaemerson73 Sat 06-Jul-13 15:57:41

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

Darkesteyes Sat 06-Jul-13 22:43:05

They were collecting for the food bank in my local Tesco yesterday. They gave me a leaflet too.
I bought some pasta and tinned fish and gave it to the collector.
I felt very weepy when i walked out. I remember telling the young Tesco cashier that being 40 i grew up with Thatcher as PM and yes it was bad but she wasnt pulling the benefits away like Cameron et al and yes there were food banks but they wernt as in demand as now. So sad that this is what its come to.

Vivienne i suppose an old work skirt could substitute the meat and half a bottle of old perfume would make a great gravy and some formica or granite could substitute the potatos.
Cant wait to see you in the press with yr ideas taliking about how youve solved all these problems. hmm confused

WafflyVersatile Sat 06-Jul-13 22:51:55

Seems foodbanks used to be for when people had fallen through the net. The intention of the state was that they would be provided for but for some reason the process had gone wrong.

Not the case now. They are designed into the Welfare state. Job centre staff have quotas for people to sanction. The whole situation is disgusting.

I get even more pissed off when I hear of trussel pitched up outside Tesco (though I do understand why they do this) and see Tesco benefiting from this situation with extra sales from charitable customers.

JakeBullet Sat 06-Jul-13 23:01:48

Agghhh..*vivienne*, do you really not understand that someone might fall on hard times AFTER tgey have their nice kitchen etc. Did you miss the recession and the number of people who have lost jobs?

Perhaps some of them have nice kitchens. ....doesn't make them immune from the rerecession. And unless they had a crystal ball they might not have predicted the job loss.

Then they appear on TV to talk about using a food bank and you promptly judge them. Nice!

joanofarchitrave Sun 07-Jul-13 00:27:56

A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers...

Darkesteyes Sun 07-Jul-13 01:03:30

And i wonder how many of the people having to use the food banks have been/are on workfare at Tesco.

crazynanna Sun 07-Jul-13 13:17:13

Great blog.

I gave at the Tesco collection yesterday, and after realising once, for me isn't enough, I went back in and asked for the neatest foodbank to me so I can donate a bit more regularly. Just a few pounds a week. And luckily, it's only a few bus stops away on my oystercard weekly buspass.

crazynanna Sun 07-Jul-13 13:17:48

nearest not neatest fgs

scottishgirl69 Sun 07-Jul-13 14:12:07

That's it? Pay housing benefit 4 weekly and a living wage and everything would be ok? Im sorry, but there far more to everything that's going on in the UK than housing benefit. MPs get £160 a week grocery allowance. Anyone read Bercows expenses, £100 000 a year of taxpayers money and the bankers who caused all this are still getting large bonues. The amount this Government spends on war and propping up regimes where people are killed and tortured. Im really sorry for anyone who has gone through tough times. Ive gone through plenty myself and I live on a very low income. But someone who has kids is better off than someone who hasn't. I have a neighbour who has 6 kids and who rakes in 14 000 plus a year on child tax credit alone. When I was unemployed I got 71 pounds a week JSA and that was it. Yes there are people in poverty but there are also people who do very well on benefits. People should not be better off out of work than in, but some people are. I am on forums and some people who have 7 kids plus are on there boasting about overpaying their mortgage. A living wage. Yes, pay Hb in a better way. But stop companies who pay no tax, stop the gravy train and that includes MPs, stop paying billions of pounds out to fund wars. Stop the bedroom tax and stop penalising the people at the bottom of the pile. And Im sorry, but when my mum was bringing me up and she was on benefits for a couple of years, she got child benefit and the couple of quid my dad gave her for me and she had to go to court to get him to pay that. Some people get £500 a week in housing benefit and its still not enough? A lot of people who use food banks and are in poverty work. Drop childcare costs, we have one of the highest childcare costs in Europe. And as for the author of this blog, I applaud you for getting yourself out of a situation, but you work full time. You are in a better position than many people in the UK and yes I understand that you live in an area where rents are high. But I did almost 2 years of living and running a flat on £71 a week and there wasn't much left over. Even when you were on benefits you had more income coming in than Ive ever seen. And if you really actually want to do some campaigning, get a handle on what this Government spend on other things, get a handle on how many companies in the UK don't pay tax, get a handle on the tax breaks for millionaires that the Govt allows. Because this is a far more complicated issue than just paying Housing Benefit every 4 weeks and introducing a national minimum wage and if you think it is, I think you have a lot of campaigning to do.

WafflyVersatile Sun 07-Jul-13 14:20:19

You realise housing benefit goes to landlords not the people on benefit, yes?

I'm not sure why on one hand you're right on the money about wars and corps and say not to go for people at the bottom of the pile but on the other are criticising people for claiming the benefits they are entitled to.

scottishgirl69 Sun 07-Jul-13 14:23:01

Oh and as for the supermarkets, someone could campaign to get them to give their stock that's almost out of date to food banks. I wont be buying anything from a food bank from Tesco to give to a food bank, I'll be buying and donating it elsewhere.

Yes there is a lot that's broken in Britain but if people think this is a new thing, not. I used to work with young homeless people who were barely scraping along the bottom and I did that for almost 20 years.

Yet some people in the area I live, which is deprived swan around with their designer gear on and its not charity shop designer gear believe me. I go into my local shop and I see people on benefits paying for alcohol and handing over £40 at a time. And Im certainly not against a safety net. But this safety net works very well for some people and not others.

Ive also seen people go into shops and buy booze with milk tokens. Poverty and social exclusion and lack of education and lack of hope often go hand in hand.

Ive been on a low income for a while now. I buy food from sites such as food bargains. I don't have a TV, I rarely socialise. I haven't bought new clothes in a very long time, Im not a smoker either.

Im not on JSA but I get some housing benefit and WTC, probably adds up to about £5500 over a year. I worked for a long time and was made redundant 4 years ago and have had a couple of spells of self employment since then.

This Government do not care about poor people and neither do Labour. One is as bad as the other. And I applaud anyone who tries to bring poverty and its associated issues to the table for people to do something about it.

But as I said, some people exist on next to nothing and other people live a benefits lifestyle. And some people can claim certain benefits having never worked a day here or paid one penny of NI into the pot and when the backdated cheques are given, the DWP do not check whether the person receiving the benefit still lives here.

I was speaking to someone who works in the DWP and who told me that.
I can make meals for a £1 a day or less. I have to.

But me doing that isn't going to solve whats wrong with the UK, I actually have no idea what is. Because I worked so long with people in chaos who had issues and no hope and some of them did sort out their lives and are ok now. But many more are dead and as soon as one person leaves a hostel, another one comes to take their place.

This economy could be kick started in a number of ways, like cutting VAT again, but it wont be.

Some other countries are rising up to protest, not here, because people are just beaten really. We have accepted our lot and got on with it.

Me, I have a degree and two post grads and I still cant find work in the area Im qualified to do and that's with 20 years plus experience. I retrained, Ive done minimum wage jobs, anything to get some income in.

This country is a mess and Im not sure 20p risotto recipes are going to solve it. That will just help people survive on the little they have, it wont change the little they have.

scottishgirl69 Sun 07-Jul-13 14:28:02

Im not criticising people for claiming the benefits they are entitled to.
Im saying its wrong that we live in a society where some people make a very nice living from being on benefits and some barely get by.

And I also did say, the cost of childcare keeps people in a poverty trap. Ive seen it often enough working with young people who want a job and cant afford childcare.

I do realise that housing benefit goes to landlords. I worked in supported accommodation for a long time. But some people get the equivalent of £20-30000 a year on benefits and then some.

What incentive do they have to get a job (assuming there are jobs to be had) if they cant afford childcare and they are better off on benefit.

As I said before, my mum was on benefits for a couple of years. She brought me up and was on supplementary benefit as it was in those days, a couple of pounds a week in child support and child benefit.

No one should be poor on benefits, but people shouldn't be rich either and some people are, even if they are in the minority, some people do very well on benefits

And Im aware that a lot of people who use food banks work and are in poverty. I worked for a year part time last year, I was worse off than I would have been on JSA due to my travel costs, having to pay more rent and the minimum wage I was paid.

WafflyVersatile Sun 07-Jul-13 14:38:41

I don't know anyone who makes a very nice living on benefits (except possibly landlords) and the DWP's figures themselves say fraud is tiny. Anecdote is worth diddly squat in my book.

Better paid jobs would be an incentive.

I'd prefer to pay for someone to stay at home and look after their children if that's what they would prefer than this situation where single parents are being forced into shitty work they don't want that sees them worse or no better off.

MummyDuckAndDuckling Sun 07-Jul-13 15:18:00

Wondeful post.

There was a food bank collection in my local tesco yesterday. The lady simply asked that I buy one extra thing to donate. She handed me a list with some ideas but said anything would be much needed.

I handed in a few tins of soup and some pasta. Cost me a few extra pounds but I don't mind, as I know it's going to a family who need it more than me.

The government really need to address this problem rather than passing the buck

WafflyVersatile Sun 07-Jul-13 15:20:56

The government do not see this as a problem, but a solution.

LuisSuarezTeeth Sun 07-Jul-13 15:32:54

If people are living well on benefits why do we need food banks? confused

Forgetfulmog Sun 07-Jul-13 15:37:16

It's the standard DM reader attitude though isn't it? One story about a single mum with 100 kids & a goat living in a mansion & suddenly everyone on benefits is tarred with the same brush.

Xenia Sun 07-Jul-13 16:08:52

Scottish, that is true.
The bottom line is when paid properly benefits do feed people.
However it seems to be benefits delays (or sometimes claimant failure to manage money) which cause these problems.

www.independent.co.uk/environment/freegans-the-bin-scavengers-467108.html

It certainly should remind us all always to try to save for a rainy day and there are lots of good tips on mumsnet to save money. I and the children only drink tap water for example which saves a small fortune over time.

LuisSuarezTeeth Sun 07-Jul-13 16:26:20

The bottom line is when paid properly benefits do feed people.

Er, no they don't always. Like when your utilities go up and you are squeezed to the limit. Or the rent goes up.

LuisSuarezTeeth Sun 07-Jul-13 16:37:43

But hey, they can rummage in bins for food and stop buying the Evian. That will sort it hmm

Leithlurker Sun 07-Jul-13 17:55:49

What the heck does "paid properly" mean??? Like they should take less time to put through a claim, cutting the time between claiming and destitution? Or maybe not imposing sanctions for being late to sign on as your bus broke down and you could not walk the 5 miles to the job centre?

Possibly backdating for a year as the claims and appeals can and very often do take that time and longer to resolve. All the while debt, rent arrears, food, clothing, school related costs, all go by the board. Maybe we should even have a proper rate lets say £150 a week JSA with top ups for disability, children, foster carer, emergency items like bedding. Naw Xenia that would be lala land would't it.

Except prior to the milk snatcher herself coming in we actually had that it was called supplementary benefit, it was a one size fits all with additions for specific reasons, sound a weenie bit familiar, that's right universal credit. One size that firs no one cos it's shit, it's paid in arrears especial to those who cannot budget, it covers non of the additional costs, it penalises the working poor especially self employed, but hay if were gonna turn the clocks back lets make it the biggest cluster fuck we can eh!

Leithlurker Sun 07-Jul-13 18:00:44

Scottish Girl please give an example not of an individual in your street or someone you were told about in the pub, but a general idea of the type of person who in your words "live well" on benefits? Age, gender, kids, rent or owner, carer, living in a multiple occupancy household or living on their own. cmon tell us who you see that is doing so well.

Leithlurker Sun 07-Jul-13 18:04:30

Before the DM living breathing devotees of all things "scrounger" start howling for proof, just toddle of the the Joseph Rowntree foundation, or the Child Poverty Action Group, web pages so much evidence that it will make your eyes bleed if not your heart.

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