Tackle the cause of foodbanks – end austerity

Published in the Times of Tunbridge Wells – Wednesday 12 July 2017

The recent Times of Tunbridge Wells article about Nourish Community Foodbank highlighted that despite a veneer of wealth in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge there are real pockets of deprivation.

The article pointed out that Nourish has seen a huge rise in demand for emergency food parcels. Nationally there are over 2,000 foodbanks. The Tressell Trust foodbank network gave out 61,500 food parcels in 2010-11 increasing to 1.2 million in 2016-17.

Cuts in benefits, ‘sanctioning’ and delays in benefit payments are some of the reasons for the increase as is the persistence of zero hours contracts and low pay. Increasingly it’s the precariousness of family finances. When someone is living on a low income there is no slack in their budget to save. An unexpected event like redundancy, sickness, family break-up, or even the need for a car or boiler repair can provoke a major financial crisis.

The Independent Food Aid Network described the increase in foodbank usage as ‘a national crisis that cannot be underestimated’ and that ‘People regularly arrive into foodbanks across the country not having eaten for days.’

Foodbanks are a recent phenomenon and have grown at the same time as wages have declined. Research from the Trades Union Congress has shown that on average workers are still £1,200 worse off in real terms that they were before the 2008 financial crash. Many low paid public-sector workers, who have had their pay frozen and capped over the last six years, are having to resort to foodbanks for emergency food hand-outs. Some of these will have seen their pay cut by over £2,000 in real terms.

During the election it became clear that all over the country there are examples of police officers, nurses, social workers, hospital porters, fire workers, and teachers who are using foodbanks – and that this is becoming increasingly common.

Foodbanks are the harsh reality of a life under this Conservative government. Previous governments have generally tried to run an economy that worked for most of us and that provided a welfare system giving a financial safety net during difficult times. This government is committed to austerity, an economy working for a few, and large numbers of people on low pay and in insecure employment. Their welfare system is increasingly threadbare with more people relying on charity and food hand-outs.

Labour is determined to change the way our economy works. A Labour government will put an end to zero hours contracts, raise the minimum wage to £10 per hour and reform the most damaging aspects of the benefit system. Labour will scrap the public sector pay cap.

People have had enough of austerity with the damage it inflicts on family lives, public services and communities. The growth created by Labour’s national investment plan will create high skilled, high-paid and secure work and improve our public finances. This will help deliver an economy that works for us all of. It will lead to an increase in living standards, help to reverse the upward trend in foodbank use and put a stop to what is truly a national shame.

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