Opinion: Food poverty is real and we need to address it

There is some merit in the argument presented by the Archbishop of Westminster that cuts, and indeed caps, to welfare are removing a safety net for those worst off in society.

We see in the Independent that one in six GPs have been asked to refer people to food banks, and while unemployment may be dropping, people are still struggling with stagnant wages and rising costs.

I’ve long argued against the benefits cap, stating that the cost of living varies so broadly across the country that such a cap can only lead to people in so-called affluent areas being disadvantaged. And we now see the use of foodbanks in these so-called affluent areas, Guildford, my constituency, being one, on the increase.

To me, there is a grave injustice in living in a town where some have mansions and Ferraris, and others are forced to collect supermarket-own soup from the food bank to make sure their kids have enough to eat.

Now, that’s not to say I’m against welfare reform. Since Beveridge’s conception, successive Labour and Conservative Governments have twisted and tweaked until it had become so complex only trained advisors could determine what any one person could receive in times of hardship.

And there is a debate to be had about whether in-work benefits are actually allowing businesses to get away with not paying decent wages, while escalating a culture of entitlement that breeds contempt for the role that welfare plays in society in maintaining a basic level of living.

The Liberal Democrats uphold principles of liberty, equality and community. But all three become irrelevant if you are forced to live hand-to-mouth. A person without basic needs met; food, shelter and company, is a person stripped of all dignity, and something we should not condone.

And that is why I am pleased to join Ros Kayes in summating a motion on Food Poverty at Spring Conference. We are calling on our Parliamentarians to push the Government to provide more support for those in crisis, those stripped of dignity, through grants and funding for food banks, through protection and ring-fencing of emergency grants and through transparent and visible action to target poverty.

As Charles Darwin said:

If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.

I hope you’ll join us on Saturday 8th March at York and support the motion to reduce these sins. And if you’d like to help us campaign, please get in touch.

* Kelly-Marie Blundell is a member of Federal Policy Committee, Vice Chair of the Social Security Working Group and previous parliamentary candidate

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20 Comments

  • Is there any evidence that it’s the Benefits Cap leading to increased use of Food Banks? It seems to be that somebody claiming only basic JSA is more likely to be in need of food than someone claiming £26,000 per year?

  • Great piece. The benefit cap is such an awful policy, addressing the result of ever increasing rent prices (high housing benefit payments) rather than the cause (a lack of affordable housing). This is pushing families out of communities – and we’re not talking about large families, but those with one or two children.

  • Simon McGrath 20th Feb '14 - 12:43pm

    I am not sure that is much (if any) evidence of a link between the benefits cap and use of food banks but I agree that it is a nonsense that the cap is not regionally based.
    Will you accept an amendment to your motion that the cap should be regionally based ?

  • I agree with most said however a cap is needed but it should be tailored to each area as costs of housing etc vary so much. I know people struggling on benefits an those getting too much its a mad assessment process making many errors mostly these days to starve people into low hours low paid work where they can find it, The Tory view is that to remove benefits so enabling employers to drop wages as demand for work be high demonise the poor an praise the rich tax dodgers that’s what’s happening

  • The Government has published the food bank report today: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/food-aid-research-report

    It may be more salient in Guildford but I’m among those far from convinced that the benefit cap should be our first priority. For me it’s benefits sanctions. If we accept that welfare is a safety net to provide basic dignity, then when we apply a benefits sanction we directly cut that net. 9 out of 10 appeals are being upheld, but only after people suffering unfair sanctions have been without any income for weeks – with food banks their only option in many cases. I wish we were campaigning against punitive sanctions instead.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Feb '14 - 3:40pm

    This article is actually quite good, which surprised me because I didn’t like some of the motions. My major concerns are:

    1. unrealistic utopianism and entitlement sentiment with lines such as:

    “No household in 21st century Britain should be dependent on
    charitable support systems for the basic necessities of life”

    2. Anti small business authoritarianism with the living wage. A minimum or living wage should only apply to welfare sanctions.

    I don’t like some of the measures that Osborne has brought in, such as the 7 day claim wait and the extent of the welfare sanctions, so we could humanise some of these, but we have to remember the primary concern must be paying for the existing welfare state, rather than thinking how we can expand it.

    Best wishes

  • The very good points Kelly makes are about poverty, not ‘food poverty’. Poverty is scandalously real in the UK. However, I don’t see why we seek to differentiate poverty into ‘food poverty’, ‘fuel poverty’ and more. It’s as if we are seeking to place the blame of poverty onto the cost of food, but food prices have risen 5x since 1970, whereas RPI has put seen overall prices go up 12x, and housing has gone up 40x. I think it’s crucial that we are rigorous about tackling the root causes of poverty, rather than concentrating on fad concepts of the political class like “food poverty”. I’m particularly concerned that giving grants to foodbanks will not provide the best value for taxpayers – it would be much better to provide grants directly to people who are demonstrably in poverty, rather than having middlemen turn that money into food that may not be the most pressing financial concern for each individual. I’m unaware of any evidence that foodbanks are failing to cope with demand that would warrant state action.

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 7:29pm

    No Kelly apparently everything in the UK is ok and the Lib Dems have made us stronger.

    We look after our own; after all charity begins at home as we always say 🙂

    Go team Britain go!

    We are an example to the world.

  • Joshua Dixon 20th Feb '14 - 7:48pm

    Echo Kelly-Marie’s sentiments entirely on this! Will proudly be voting for this at conference.

  • Churchill, advocating the Liberal Land Taxes of the People’s Budget said in one speech:

    “Some years ago in London there was a toll-bar on a bridge across the Thames, and all the working people who lived on the south side of the river, had to pay a daily toll of one penny for going and returning from their work. The spectacle of these poor people thus mulcted of so large a proportion of their earnings appealed to the public conscience: an agitation was set on foot, municipal authorities were roused, and at the cost of the ratepayers the bridge was freed and the toll removed. All those people who used the bridge were saved 6d. a week. Within a very short period from that time the rents on the south side of the river were found to have advanced by about 6d. a week, or the amount of the toll which had been remitted. And a friend of mine was telling me the other day that in the parish of Southwark about £350 a year, roughly speaking, was given away in doles of bread by charitable people in connection with one of the churches, and as a consequence of this the competition for small houses, but more particularly for single-roomed tenements is, we are told, so great that rents are considerably higher than in the neighbouring district.

    All goes back to the land, and the landowner, who in many cases, in most cases, is a worthy person utterly unconscious of the character of the methods by which he is enriched, is enabled with resistless strength to absorb to himself a share of almost every public and every private benefit, however important or however pitiful those benefits may be.”

  • There have been two LDV threads on food poverty in the last couple of days. This one from Kelly-Marie Blundell is positive and contains discussion of how best to provide a Liberal solution to a real world problem. Then there is the thread from Nick Thornsby, very different in tone to say the eldest.

    If I were able to be in York as a voting rep I have no doubt that I would support Ros Kayes and Kelly-Marie Blundell in their attempts to do something to help the poor.

    To Nick Thornsby, who wants to do something different, I would ask him to look at his own blog where he talks about his year in 2013, his trips to the USA and Norway, all the books he has been reading and reflect on how different his life would be if he was living on benefits and had just been “sanctioned” . He might want to consider the price of books and foreign travel, the cost of the coffee and cake in the Norwegian restaurant a photograph of which he has included in his blog. He might want to consider the price of the camera on which he took the photograph of that coffee and cake. No food banks for him or the lucky young men who seem to agree with him, but he might want to consider the plight of those who are not so lucky.

  • Kelly-Marie is right to raise this issue. The situation is complex, but the growth in foodbanks is a clear indication that something is badly wrong with society and government has responsibility and power to lead in doing something about it. In another article, Nick Thornsby is right to point out that it is a complex issue, but he is wrong to refer to relative poverty. My wife is involved in running a foodbank and it is clear that some people have been caught in a difficult situation not of their own making and we should be doing more to prevent these situations happening.
    The bottom line anyway is not just the actual poverty, but the unfairness. As the Bishop of Manchester said on radio 4 this week, we are treating people who are at the lower end of our society and it is absolutely clear that they are not being fairly treated.
    We Liberal Democrats loose our identity if we do not feel shame in being part of a government that has not tackled this problem and may have even allowed the conservatives to make it worse.

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