We must not normalise food banks. Their proliferation is a mark of shame on this country

Ministers refuse to acknowledge the depth and scale of the crisis

Share
Related Topics

It is a national disgrace that this Christmas there are tens of thousands having to turn to food banks. Britain is experiencing a food poverty explosion. The Trussell Trust estimate that they will feed 700,000 people this financial year. Whilst 13 million people in Britain are living below the poverty line – one in five – it’s no surprise that hunger is a reality for so many adults and children. Yet this in one of the richest countries on earth.

Last year I secured the first parliamentary debate on food banks. It was a relatively new phenomenon. Most people had never heard of them a few years ago. My Labour colleagues and I exposed some shocking statistics: almost one in ten people in the UK have skipped meals because of poverty, gone without food to feed their families or relied on friends and family for food. We pressed ministers to tackle the sharp end of the cost of living crisis, but we failed. Ministers refuse to acknowledge the depth and scale of the crisis. Yet ministers view food banks as merely an expression of people’s good will, a worthy charitable enterprise or the manifestation of the illusive ‘big society’.

It is true that food banks are a sign that the British retain their altruistic instincts. I support my local food banks whenever and however I can. But I am deeply concerned about their normalisation. The presence in every supermarket of collection points, the Harvest Festivals turned into food bank collections and the acceptance of the phrase ‘food bank’ into everyday speech: these things make food banks ‘normal’. They must not become a part of our national life – they are a mark of shame in our communities, and should go the same way as the Poor Law Guardians and the workhouse.

I have visited several food banks over the past two years. I have never met anyone there who isn’t desperate, ashamed and doesn’t genuinely need to eat. No one walks into a food bank with their head held high. When ministers say that people use food banks because they can’t handle their household budgets, or because they have drug addictions, or even just because they can, they show how tragically out of touch they are.

Food poverty exists because of unemployment, low wages, high costs of heating, as well as problems at the DWP including delays in receiving social security, and the cruel and unfair Bedroom Tax. These are the things ministers could tackle, with the will to do so. Instead, they blame the victims and wash their hands of them.

Ministers should understand that it is not merely an immediate crisis for the people unable to feed themselves this Christmas. By creating a generation of vulnerable people, especially children, with a poor, irregular diet, we are storing up a public health time bomb. We are starting to understand the obesity epidemic. Soon we will see an explosion in the other conditions related to poor-quality, unhealthy diets and intermittent hunger. On this government’s watch, we have seen an increase in the diseases of Dickensian England: rickets, scurvy, tuberculosis and malnourishment.  Just as the Edwardians discovered at the time of the Boer War, we will soon discover a generation permanently damaged by vitamin deficiency and unhealthy eating.

It’s already starting. Ask anyone in the NHS. A GP tweeted the other week stating "I’m sad to say that at my NHS practice if we have a patient who has unexplained symptoms, we have started asking if they can afford to eat." That tweet struck a nerve. It was retweeted 3,000 times by people horrified by its implications.

In the parliamentary debate last Christmas, my colleague Huw Irranca-Davies made the prediction that more people would be reliant on food banks by next Christmas. How utterly depressing that he was right. As we debate food poverty again today, we will hear that the numbers of people who cannot feed themselves and their family have gone up. I believe that another half a million people having to go through the embarrassment of turning up to a food bank is a national scandal. This Christmas, we should make two pledges: one, to support our local food banks to tackle the immediate emergency of hungry people; and two, to argue for a system of work, wages and social security which means food banks don’t have to exist.

Luciana Berger is Shadow Minister for Public Health and the Labour & Co-operative MP for Liverpool Wavertree

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing