The Conservative-led Government has put their anti-Europe ideology before the needs of the most deprived people in our nation after turning down support from a new £2.5 billion European Aid to the Most Deprived fund to be used to help with the costs of running food banks. In the current economic downturn, Britain’s poorest families would have been helped with EU funding for food banks, which could have reached £22 million.
The number of people using food banks this Christmas has tripled. The Trussell Trust fed over 60,000 people, one third of which were children over the festive season. During the same period, the Trust fed 20,000 people last year. With 1 in 5 people living in poverty, the number of food banks has soared across the country. According to Oxfam, the rising number of people using food banks was due to low wages, rising prices and failings in the welfare system that were pushing people into poverty.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that people are using food banks only as a last resort, Gove recently blamed the rise in food banks on financial mismanagement by families. After Gove’s insulting comments, people may conclude that the Conservative-led government rejected EU funds due to a genuine belief that the poor do not deserve help, as they are to blame for their destitute economic situation.
The Government, however, claim to have rejected EU funding for food banks on the ground that Britain would be best placed to deliver support through regional and local authorities, which can identify and meet the needs of deprived people in their communities, rather than a standardised European model of financial distribution. The Government are using the principle of subsidiarity to justify rejecting EU funding on behalf of the poor.
If the Government are as committed to giving power to local communities as they claim to be, they should give communities the opportunity to vote in a referendum on the issue. After all rejecting the new EU fund will have direct ramifications for deprived local communities, therefore they should have a say in the decision making process.
Without funding from the EU, the Government will struggle to match the new EU fund of £22 million. Speaking out against the Government, Ivana Bartoletti London Labour MEP candidate for 2014 said, “Once again, the Tories' anti-EU ideology is being put ahead of the needs of the poor in our country - this out of touch government has created this mess and are not doing anything to support those in need.”
No statement has been forthcoming from the Government as to how they intend to provide the help desperately required to meet the needs of the 13 million people who live below the poverty line in Britain. Richard Howitt, a Labour MEP who helped negotiate the EU fund, said “it is very sad that our government is opposing this much-needed help for food banks on the basis that it is a national responsibility, when in reality it has no intention of providing the help itself.”
Pandering to anti-Europe sentiment by rejecting a substantial EU fund may have strengthened the Tories’ anti-Europe platform, but it has also sent a clear message to voters that the needs of the poorest section of our society are secondary to their anti-Europe ideology. Refusing the EU fund will have dire consequences for the most deprived people in our nation who have to choose between eating and heating.
Everyone has the right to live a life free from poverty. It’s time the Government prioritised the needs of the poor above its own ideology, or expect to see the numbers of people in poverty soar in 2014.
Charlotte is a barrister at 1 Mitre Court