The Tories are collecting donations for food banks – after the misery I’ve seen, it beggars belief

People have been hit by Conservative welfare reform from all angles, leaving them confused and destitute. Standing in a supermarket twice a year with a bucket is no way to make up for that

Kate Belgrave
Monday 03 December 2018 16:18
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I’ve recorded conversation after conversation at food banks and jobcentres and council offices for nearly 10 years. The damage wrought by welfare reform is unbelievable
I’ve recorded conversation after conversation at food banks and jobcentres and council offices for nearly 10 years. The damage wrought by welfare reform is unbelievable

Look at the ridiculous Dominic Raab.

The clown posted a photo of himself on Twitter collecting donations for food banks – food banks that are only needed because of his own party’s welfare reforms.

Raab wasn’t the only Tory MP making a display of himself in such a way in the past few days. There was also Scottish Tory MP Ross Thomson styling himself as a hero for tossing a can of food at the local food bank to help people that his own party has helped to send to ruin.

This display of Tory MPs collecting for food banks and tweeting out photos to prove it is perverted. These foolish MPs are actually prepared to highlight the fact that thousands of people can’t afford food on their watch.

I can’t wait to find out whose brilliant PR idea this was. I also can’t wait to find out why the Trussell Trust thought that associating themselves with this deviant exercise would work in their favour. God has certainly left that building – along with irony.

Let’s be very clear about the reasons that people visit food banks.

People use food banks because they’re forced into poverty and insurmountable debt by the heinous damage that recent governments have visited on social security.

I can say this for a fact, because I spend a great deal of my time interviewing people who must use food banks (and people who must use jobcentres and council homelessness services and every other part of the wreck that passes for modern social security).

The stories are always the same. The lines between welfare reform and poverty are clear.

People who had no money in the first place have been financially devastated by multiple aspects of so-called welfare reform. People don’t just have one problem – rent arrears, say, or lost income because of a sanction. They have more than one of those problems. They’ve been hit from all sides.

They are dealing with council tax debt because of council tax benefit cuts (and big court fines when they’re taken to court for non-payment of council tax), rent shortfalls because of local housing allowance caps, benefit caps, sanctions for not attending jobcentre meetings that they didn’t know they were on and lost income when they’re erroneously found fit for work by one or another Department for Work and Pensions charlatan. Dealing with one of these problems is difficult. Dealing with all of them – and finding the money to cover the debts that these problems inevitably bring – is impossible.

Perched atop this steaming heap, of course, is the universal credit disaster. That hopeless benefit’s start-time delays and unfathomable benefit deductions for debts that people didn’t know they had push people into poverty as a matter of course.

Here are some examples of these multifaceted debts:

Firstly there’s Mel, 47, at Oldham food bank. Mel was having radiation therapy.

As far as debt went, Mel was very much an example of someone who’d been hit by welfare reform from many angles. Mel had council tax debts. She was in rent arrears, because she’d had problems with her universal credit payments. She kept getting letters from her landlord about the arrears.

There was more.

Mel’s daughter and her children were living with Mel in Mel’s two-bedroom flat. Mel’s daughter and her family had been evicted from their flat. The landlord wanted to sell. The family was relying on Mel’s money to pay for food, because Mel’s daughter had given up trying to claim universal credit.

Mel told me:

“They said she [Mel’s daughter] can’t go on the universal credit. They said they would put her on to income support, then income support said she had to go on universal credit. Universal credit’s given one payment and then said she wasn’t entitled to it and she had to go onto income support. So she rang income support and they said she’s not entitled to it and this is it. She’s had one payment in 10 months from the universal credit. My daughter got abused off the phone, on the phone too. So she just’s given in and now I have the family living with me.”

People give up trying to claim benefits all the time. I suppose that’s the idea.

Here’s Kelly, whom I also interviewed at length at Oldham food bank.

Kelly was another person who’d been hit from all sides. She was paying the bedroom tax, rent arrears and council tax debt. She was also struggling with a benefit overpayment that she didn’t understand, a working tax credit debt, and repayments for a social fund loan that the DWP was deducting.

She said: “I don’t know where it’s come from. I came out of work last year and they told me, working tax credits, they’ve overpaid me by £1,000. They’re taking out £50 a month and I can’t do nothing about it, yeah? They just took it out, so basically, altogether, what comes out of my money, what they took is £70 a month.”

And in regards to universal credit:

“It’s really hard. I’ve got to miss one bill to pay another bill. Moving money around, you always get letters through your door. It’s like – I don’t get paid every month until the 18th. I’ve got a court letter now in my pocket. I’ve got to go to court because I can’t pay my poll [sic] tax until the 18th of the month and they want it on the first.”

I could go on. I mean that, too – I really could go on. I’ve recorded conversation after conversation like these at food banks and jobcentres and council offices for nearly 10 years.

Suffice to say that Raab and Thomson really have some nerve. Standing in a supermarket twice a year to collect donations just isn’t going to cut it. Food banks exist to the extent they do because of Tory welfare policy – why don’t they do something about that?

Names in this story have been changed

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