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

FasterStronger Mon 08-Jul-13 13:56:07

Leith - the latest approach of a very small area with only very simple claims is correct from an IT perspective. until you can solve a simplified version of the problem don't kid yourself you are actually solving the main problem.

you are just billing the govt, delaying the problems being found out, looking for a new role etc etc.

MiniTheMinx Mon 08-Jul-13 13:53:02

Is there greater pride and empowerment in collecting giros or in receiving charity? I would say that neither is ideal.

There are two choices, pay higher wages to workers so that demand rises/leads to some new job creation and higher tax revenues or tax those with the wealth and give to those in need. In view of the fact that option A is unthinkable to those who hold the reigns and option b seemingly beyond the understanding of employers and workers alike.........what can be done? Bemoaning and denying the fact that some people are casualties of this failing system and then blaming them whilst hanging yourself out to dry by extolling the merits of the free market is ignorant.

Never mind the bad choices the poor make, what about the ignorance of those who "think" they benefit from this system that is increasingly placing so little value on life. If you make the right investments & the right decisions you will be lucky enough to line the pockets of the rich through your own labour and spending and you'll just keep making those investments and taking on that debt in competition with others, if you make poor choices you just go hungry. But at least the moralisers will die trying, does that make them better people or just indoctrinated & docile wretches.

I support having a welfare state but two things are starting us in the face. 1) capitalism creates welfare need 2)neo-liberalism is impoverishing the state.

So welfare need is rising, the ability to meet the need is diminishing and all the wealth is finding its way into fewer hands. The state finds money to prop up the failing economic system, bail out banks and pay for R&D, military spending and corporate welfare all the time knowingly feeding the very thing that is creating poverty.

If it wasn't real and actually killing people it might seem like a sick joke.

Leithlurker Mon 08-Jul-13 13:46:53

FS, we can agree on the folly of throwing technology which is inherently expensive at the problem. Hence why the universal credit scheme is going to be the train crash that everyone is predicting.

FasterStronger Mon 08-Jul-13 13:33:13

mini when the bbc surveyed, over 95% of people in the uk support having a welfare state. but it is always going to impossible to get right.

the main reason being purely practical: IT systems of this size and complexity are pretty much impossible to get right. and I don't see that changing under any govt , in the next 10 years.

the gap between what they deliver at the moment and what would be required to meet reasonable expectations is absolutely huge.

Leithlurker Mon 08-Jul-13 13:09:15

Exactly the opposite FS, I am arguing that in order for people to make those choices they need to know that a welfare state exists not to undermine them but to support them when things go wrong or that events outside their control like the implosion of the banking system overtakes them. In other words no to charity such as foodbanks and yes to better level of benefits and locally run democratic social services.

MiniTheMinx Mon 08-Jul-13 13:08:06

Faster you might think it isn't your place to judge the choices that others make but Tory ideologues think otherwise. Their justification for leaving people to starve all hinges upon the idea that some people are morally inferior and make poor choices. They choose not to work, to work for low pay, to work on zero hrs contracts, they choose to give up their rights, bash the unions, buy tatt on credit to shore up the shoddy lie that is capitalism and then cut their own throats, "what morally corrupt people they are" says IDS. And yes there maybe some truth in it too. For those of who support free market ideals and would swallow this deception without question, despite the fact that it hurts us, are indeed morally corrupt and without good judgement.

FasterStronger Mon 08-Jul-13 13:01:01

Leith, you seem to be arguing that people in the UK don't have any meaningful choice in influencing the path their life takes. have I understood you correctly?

Leithlurker Mon 08-Jul-13 12:10:14

Choices Like what FS, buying a house? Getting Married, Going to university? Taking out a loan? Working for low pay? Not applying for Jobs that they cannot do or have no skill or aptitude for? WHICH CHOICES FS?

WafflyVersatile Mon 08-Jul-13 12:09:05

However 'bad' someone's 'choices' I think a humane society provides a minimum level of care for them. Foodbanks aren't it.

There aren't the jobs, or the hours or the level of pay available for everyone to support themselves, and punishing, humiliating and dehumanising the people without work isn't going to change that.

FasterStronger Mon 08-Jul-13 11:57:50

I dont believe it is the job of the State or anyone else's business to morally police others. so I don't care if someone had 4 children by 4 different men.

but I think if someone makes choices as an adult and puts themselves in vulnerable position (so not disability, MH, death etc.) where they are dependent on others (who may choose to withdraw their support, though relationship breakdown or voting for a different govt) they need to take responsibility for their choices and learn from it.

the converse is someone remains vulnerable and dependant.

alreadytaken Mon 08-Jul-13 11:56:10

2.51 million people looking for work and 516,000 vacancies. Some people are going to have very severe problems finding work. Sanctioning them doesn't help with that very simple problem.

LouisSuarezTeeth did you appeal against the sanction for being late when given the wrong appointment time? I have no idea how successful appeals are but googling throws up sites like this and this suggesting you have gounds for saying there was a good reason why sanctions should not apply.

Leithlurker Mon 08-Jul-13 11:28:56

To answer your question FS, I did not say I did not trust the figures i said they have so little detail as to be useless. Now you can answer my question what bad choices are you refering to? If your willing to exclude people with disabilities in your sweeping view of the feckless then who exactly do you think make these bad choices. See I am chasing this down as I bet I or other MN posters know who you think are the worst "users" but I want to give you a fair shake.

FasterStronger Mon 08-Jul-13 10:56:02

Mercedes - I am have not commented on people with disabilities on this thread because as far as i am aware it is not what the op is about.

DF had a condition with the same symptoms as Stephen Hawkins so I am well aware of disability. also DP has a condition that mean his bones don't grow normally and he would have died in childhood without surgery to increase the size of his rib cage. since then he has developed another condition that historically led to death.

so you are right many people don't make choices and that is very sad. but many people do make less than sensible choices.

Mercedes519 Mon 08-Jul-13 10:46:50

if a couple chose to have only one earner, household finances are more vulnerable to unemployment.

Thanks FasterStronger I'll be sure to mention to my disabled DH that he's making us vulnerable. I'm sure that'll perk him right up.

Have you ever been really poor fasterstronger? Not that it's a competition but I'm not sure that you really understand that so many people don't make choices. They just get by and then shit happens and then they can't.

FasterStronger Mon 08-Jul-13 10:45:08

if you dont like the ONS, what is your better source of data?

Leithlurker Mon 08-Jul-13 10:20:09

Besides which this is a milady amusing diversion, but the point is that many of those who were unemployed will now be asking for help from food banks as even with employment they are not able to make ends meet. The working poor are the highest growth sector for those taking up assistance from food banks.

Dear old Lord Fraud though would tell us that this is due to them having to much time on their hands and not working hard enough.

Leithlurker Mon 08-Jul-13 10:15:31

Pffft you do realise that they are as good as a chocolate tea pot.

From the link you gave: "Not in the labour force 8.99 million"

"Vacancies 516,000" On the face of it that would suggest we have a massive amount of people who will never be employed. We know however that the 8.99 figure will include people who cannot work, or who are not even looking for work. The data is only good for educated guesses. What would be better is for the data to tell us where those that say they are now employed or at least are saying they are not unemployed, actually went. I am sure as hell not convinced they all went in to paid full time employment above the min wage.

FasterStronger Mon 08-Jul-13 10:01:32

figures from the ONS

Leithlurker Mon 08-Jul-13 09:49:40

Exactly UP, plus the numbers who are being pushed in to workfare, part time education, self employment, and those that withdraw their claims for ESA as they cannot face the invasive and stressful claim procedure.

Uptheairymountain Mon 08-Jul-13 09:45:47

Figures are the highest they've been since, well, the last Tory government. Employment is apparently high but those stats are massaged by zero-hours and work programme.

Leithlurker Mon 08-Jul-13 09:43:32

Says who?

FasterStronger Mon 08-Jul-13 09:41:46

unemployment is falling not soaring.

Uptheairymountain Mon 08-Jul-13 09:35:18

They were able to get (steady) jobs, which isn't necessarily going to be the case now with soaring unemployment figures and zero-hours contracts.

FasterStronger Mon 08-Jul-13 08:48:36

you look at what migrants who come to this country do with no money, maybe little education or English whose children go to university and become lawyers, doctors etc.

Uptheairymountain Mon 08-Jul-13 08:42:36

But if you don't get the "good times," what then? When the only jobs are minimum wage with no prospects and you're lucky to even get one of those? Sadly, that's life for millions of people.

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