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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

madhairday Fri 05-Jul-13 13:28:31

Great post. In my local churches together food bank there is seriously not enough time in the day to sort everyone out or enough food for everyone who needs it sad I think the payments of benefits quickly is a key point - many are going short because of clerical error or simply red tape and the slow grinding of the system. It's also a big problem for disabled and chronically ill people who cannot get ESA as 'fit to work' yet cannot get JSA as 'not fit for work' hmm

noisytoys Fri 05-Jul-13 14:06:21

Great post from a fantastic person. I know Jack in RL and she is the kindest, most honest, most genuine person I have ever met. Despite the problems and challenges she herself faces she gives and gives and gives. If we all gave just a small amount there would be no food poverty at all!!

NatashaBee Fri 05-Jul-13 15:50:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

HeathcliffeItsMe Fri 05-Jul-13 15:55:42

Great post, I completely agree.

timidviper Fri 05-Jul-13 15:56:39

I agree with this for many of the people who need help but there is a sizeable number of people who need help through poor choices and lack of responsibility.

Our nearest town has a large number of HMOs and a big "benefits culture" (bad enought to be featured on several tv programmes recently). I never cease to be amazed at some of the lifestyle choices and priorities of a sizeable proportion of the people I meet in my paid work and voluntary work. It is awful to think of deserving and undeserving poor but, in times of austerity, how long do we go on throwing help into the black hole of that part of a society that won't help themselves.

I hate a lot of things about this government and the punishing of people who are suffering hard times is one of them but, if we could find a way to tackle the "underclass" we would have more to help those in genuine need.

JakeBullet Fri 05-Jul-13 16:31:29

Fabulous post, I utterly agree with everything in it.

What made me laugh most about Lord Fraud yesterday was his blinkered idea that people used food banks because they then got free food. No understanding that people in most cases have to be REFERRED to a food bank by another agency who finds that they person or family involved WILL go hungry without it.

ProfYaffle Fri 05-Jul-13 17:26:52

I've a volunteer at the CAB, we're one of the Agencies who refer people to the food banks. We are a tiny bureaux in a relatively affluent, rural area yet the pace at which we're getting through the food vouchers is frightening.

Many people don't realise that food banks aren't like soup kitchens, you can't turn up and get fed anytime you like. An individual can only access a food bank 3 times in a year. We're now reaching a point where many of our clients have used up their 3 visits, what happens then?

A food bank user is also only issued with 3 day's worth of food, yet typically we're referring people who haven't had any money for several weeks. Last week I saw a lady of 60 whose JSA was stopped for 2 weeks because she hadn't made any online job applications - she doesn't have a computer at home and continued to make numerous paper based applications. Another client I saw last week (again around 60) hadn't had any money for a month because DWP had lost his ESA application, he probably won't get it sorted out for another month. 2 months with no money and access to just 9 days worth of food. He left shaking and crying with panic at his situation.

The situation's only going to get worse, I can't imagine what we'll be seeing in 6 months' time.

noisytoys Fri 05-Jul-13 17:38:17

Prof it breaks my heart that it affects old people too. I know it's logical and all ages can have poverty and hard times, but 60 year olds should be helped and supported not punished and humiliated sad poor people.

Ragwort Fri 05-Jul-13 19:23:49

Not all food banks have the '3 times only' rule. I volunteer at an 'independently' organised food bank (run by local churches) and we use our discretion about how much food we give out - some of our clients have been coming to us for two years. sad.

I know that church run schemes aren't popular on Mumsnet but in my opinion these are the volunteers who are taking the time and energy to organise food banks.

goldenoriole Fri 05-Jul-13 20:39:46

There's a very good article by Polly Toynbee in today's Guardian on this topic.....

Forgetfulmog Fri 05-Jul-13 20:43:42

Having just read this & some of the blog, I am utterly appalled. We are a developed, wealthy country ffs - how is it possible to have people and children going hungry? It's an utter disgrace. The government is supposed to take care of its citizens.

edlyu Fri 05-Jul-13 21:24:25

I agree with noisytoys that illogically I feel most sorry for the older generation who are presented with what seems like new rules every time they turn around. Specially those who are alone and who just got on with their job before disaster hit.

There is no allowance made for these people cast adrift on the high seas of the government war against benefit scroungers. It makes not one bit of difference if they have worked all their lived up to the point where they are forced to claim .They are still thrown in with the long term claimants and they struggle to keep up with the demands imposed on them.

They do recognise the importance of job hunting etc but they are expected to hit the ground running from day one ,including getting online and looking for a substantial amount of jobs . If they dont hit the target ( remember ,targets are all in the claim game) they will be sanctioned -which means no money for at least 2 weeks a time. This affects their housing benefit and before very long they run the very real risk of losing their long term home. But not to worry .They wont need it for long as they dont have food or money for fuel either. All this on top of losing their job which gave them a focus in life.

My heart really does go out to them and no-one seems to stand up for them at all.

JazzAnnNonMouse Fri 05-Jul-13 21:37:25

Brilliant blog. It's shamefull that anyone goes hungry as there's enough food to go round. It's horrifying that we allow people to potentially starve in such a rich country as this.

Viviennemary Fri 05-Jul-13 21:55:22

I think it is easy to fall into a trap while waiting on benefits that fail to be paid on time. But a lot of people do not budget carefully. I saw somebody on TV talking about being penniless and she had no money for food. In a very smart kitchen and nice clothes.

JillApple Fri 05-Jul-13 22:21:27

I too work at a CAB but in an urban area. We too regularly run out of food vouchers and there are limits on how many vouchers we can issue. Unfortunately, this situation is set to get worse. Bedroom tax of 25% rent when there are no 1 bedroom properties available to move into; council tax being paid by the poorest of £4 pw ( try paying that, your utility and water bills, TV Licence, food and bus fare out of £71.70 pw!) universal credit being paid monthly in arrears instead of weekly; people forced into zero hours' contracts where you do not know from one week to the next how many hours work you will get... I hate the way this government divides the poor- working and unemployed, deserving and undeserving, migrant worker and white British worker, working single mother and stay at home single mother... We need to keep campaigning. There is a lot of work to do. Ms Jack Monroe - you are a trooper and an inspiration.

joanofarchitrave Fri 05-Jul-13 22:51:36

Vivienne it's perfectly possible to have things and then lose your income. You can't eat a skirt.

JakeBullet Sat 06-Jul-13 00:13:28

Wow vivienne am presuming that if you EVER lose your income you will sell anything which seems "naice". Perhaps break up the smart kitchen etc.

Ever considered that people DO fall in hard times occasionally....in fact more than occasionally.

Forgetfulmog Sat 06-Jul-13 08:10:09

Vivienne - read jacks blog, you will notice that she too had nice things before it all went pear-shaped

YoniMatopoeia Sat 06-Jul-13 10:49:09

Brilliant blog. Totally agree.

MrsHoarder Sat 06-Jul-13 12:00:46

I've saved a local paper cutting to discuss with my local (Tory) MP at the next election: with a headline that the foodbank in reasonably affluent local town has given out 50% more food than last year. Its disgraceful that this is happening.

creighton Sat 06-Jul-13 12:06:58

i suppose vivienne expects people to rip out their kitchens and sell them on ebay before they are allowed to ask for help

MrsHoarder Sat 06-Jul-13 12:19:54

Of course. And once one has sold one's fixed assets for 10% of their purchase value one should buy cheap Primark clothes for more than the clothes sold for and eat take-aways due to not having a kitchen.

Viviennemary Sat 06-Jul-13 13:13:55

There have been times in the past where I have been hard up but have always had enough money to pay for basic food and bills though it was difficult. But other things had to be sacrificed. Such as smart kitchens and cars and nice clothes.

LuisSuarezTeeth Sat 06-Jul-13 13:40:59

What would you suggest Vivienne? Sell the kitchen?

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