A near empty food cupboard. Photo: Oxfam.

Only the cruel and heartless would deny another person the ability to feed themselves and their family. But after years of austerity and draconian cuts to vital social security benefits, an increasing number of people are finding it agonizingly difficult, if not impossible, to feed themselves and their loved-ones. 

The UK Government has so-far been reluctant, or in some cases completely dismissive, to accept the all-but obvious link between benefit changes and the seemingly relentless rise in foodbank users.

Instead, they continue to peddle the myth that many hard-up up families are simply incapable of managing their own finances, or that the so-called “gift” of “free food” is more than enough to lure anyone on the lookout for a “hand out”. In truth, the reality couldn’t be more different.

There are some who would have us believe that moving into work, or increasing the number of hours worked, is the only realistic route to salvation from poverty and destitution. But after years of poor wage growth and rising living costs, working households are now more likely to be living in poverty than others.

It has been revealed that the Department for Work and Pensions has spent over £200k in employing civil servants to investigate the reported link between the introduction of Universal Credit and surge in foodbank users.

At this point we should point out that, contrary to some media reports, people have to be referred to foodbanks by a credited professional before they will even be considered for emergency food aid. Some foodbanks also place a limit on the number of food parcels any one household can receive in a single year.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has been challenged to meet real-life foodbank users, after shamelessly declaring that benefit changes introduced since 2010 are a “welfare success” in spite of growing evidence to the contrary.

Meanwhile, foodbanks have been left pleading for donations from members of the public, because they are struggling to keep up with rising demand from families in crisis.

The nationwide charity Trussell Trust (among others) has called on the UK Government to ensure families have a sufficient income to cover basic living costs, such as food, energy, and housing costs.

Samantha Stapley, Director of Operations at The Trussell Trust, said: “Foodbanks cannot, and must not, be a long term to solution to hunger at any time of year.

“No one should face going hungry, and although our network will be doing all they can this summer to help families struggling to make the money they have stretch to cover the essentials, no charity can replace people having enough money for the basics.

“There are changes we can make as a nation to help during the holidays, but if we are to protect each other from hunger whatever the time of year, we have to go further than that.”

She added: “We know particular groups of people are most likely to need a foodbank, so let’s make sure no one is swept into destitution.

“Our benefits system can, and must, act as an anchor to protect people from being pulled into poverty.”

It’s about time that Ministers woke up to the fact that Tory policies are piling further financial pressures on people who are already teetering on the cliff-edge, while many more have toppled over never to be thought of again.

Between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018, The Trussell Trust’s foodbank network distributed 1,332,952 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, a 13% increase on the previous year. 484,026 of these went to children.This is a higher increase than the previous financial year, where foodbank use was up by 6%.

Commenting on those statistics, Emma Revie, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, said: “As a nation we expect no one should be left hungry or destitute – illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job could happen to any of us, and we owe it to each other to make sure sufficient financial support is in place when we need it most.

“It’s hard to break free from hunger if there isn’t enough money coming in to cover the rising cost of absolute essentials like food and housing. For too many people staying above water is a daily struggle. It’s completely unacceptable that anyone is forced to turn to a foodbank as a result.

“Universal Credit is the future of our benefits system. It’s vital we get it right, and ensure levels of payment keep pace with the rising cost of essentials, particularly for groups of people we know are already more likely to need a foodbank – disabled people, people dealing with an illness, families with children and single parents.”

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