Foodbanks are a lifeline to those in need across the South East but, at the same time, they continue to be a stain on the government’s record on poverty and inequality. My new report finds that, in just the last four years, Conservative ministers have overseen at least a 20% rise in foodbank dependency in my constituency alone.
Across the UK, foodbank dependency has soared by at least 65% in the last four years. We have even seen reports of nurses being forced to rely on foodbanks as the reality of Britain’s record in-work poverty levels hit home in 2017.
Low income was one of the single biggest reasons why people are forced to seek emergency food aid in 2017. In the UK, right now, there are seven million people from working households living below the poverty line. In fact, a record 60% of Britons in poverty are working. A third of children are living below the poverty line, despite two-thirds of those children’s parents working. Despite low headline unemployment ﬁgures, insecure work and zero hour contracts are soaring while the growth of underemployment reveals the lie at the heart of the oﬀcial employment statistics.
Similarly, we have seen the number of rough sleepers increase 169% under the Tories while homelessness has soared. In the South East, there are now more than 27,000 people without a home. Brighton and Hove has the largest number of people sleeping rough, outside London, and 1 in 69 people are homeless. Poverty, homelessness and foodbank dependency are issues that are inexorably linked and have intensiﬁed in the last seven years. It is why, just as in 2013, foodbanks remain one of Britain’s few booming industries.
Amidst all of the statistics, though, it’s all too easy to forget that each food parcel handed out goes to somebody in real and genuine need. From my visits to foodbanks, meeting both clients and volunteers, I have always been struck by the quiet desperation aﬀecting people across my constituency.
During a visit to Portsmouth, I met John. He was volunteering at a local foodbank after receiving help from them at a time in his life when he was facing lots of problems. He’d lost his job, his accommodation and, subsequently, developed a drug habit and drifted into street drinking, until, eventually, he reached rock-bottom. He told me he thought that a lack of food was the least of his worries. He thought he could always resort to scavenging or begging. Eventually, however, he realised he needed to get back to a ‘normal life’ and regular meals, otherwise, he would die.
I also met Mary, a single parent who just couldn’t keep up with the cost of clothing and feeding her children. She would often go without food so her kids could eat. For her, the foodbank was a lifeline at a time of desperation. Shockingly, the hardships facing John and Mary, who live in the ﬁfth largest economy in the world, are in stark contrast to the prosperity enjoyed by wealthiest few in Britain. The inequality between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in the South East, as across the UK, is startling and must be addressed.
My latest report aims to highlight the hardship faced by thousands of Marys and Johns across the South East of England, and indeed up and down the UK. It reveals a shameful side of the British economy that is deliberately hidden from view by the government.
As wages continue to stagnate, as Brexit continues to push up the cost of living and as the government forces ahead with its welfare cuts and the disastrous rollout of Universal Credit, there is little hope this situation will improve under this administration. Some will say that poverty is inevitable, no matter what you do. Greens reject this. For us, poverty is political and its elimination will always be a top priority.
There’s often a reluctance to seek charity in this country—that so many see no alternative is a truly damning indictment of government policy.