The Blog

The Food Bank Blame Game

The anger created by the rise of food banks can force those in power to tackle this issue. And the ensuing hope can finally put an end to the march of the 'blame the poor' brigade.

British people are angry about the rise of food banks. This anger has manifested itself in the form of nationwide protests, fierce political debates and a hell of a lot of volunteer work. The predictable 'blame the poor' rhetoric advanced by the political elite, as these manifestations show, has failed to resonate with British people. Instead, Britons are blaming the political elite.

Our present politicians have shown little desire to engage in the food bank debate. I suppose it's comforting to avoid uncomfortable issues. There are a few brave representatives, however, that have tackled this issue with class. By class, of course, I mean they have blamed a certain class. Iain Duncan Smith has become the mouthpiece of the 'blame the poor' brigade. He has charmingly argued that most people that use food banks are simply dysfunctional. They're the kind of people, apparently, that the state shouldn't support - drug addicts, sick people and, perhaps most criminally, the divorced. To blame the government for a massive rise in poverty is, according to Smith, ridiculous.

Another member of the 'blame the poor' brigade, Tory peer Baroness Anne Jenkin, gave an even more outlandish excuse. She blamed the rise of food banks on poor peoples' inability to cook. Therefore, according to the Baroness, poor people were far better at cooking last year and the year before that they were even better. A decade ago they must have been brilliant. What happened to this country? When did the most vulnerable forget their culinary genius? Cookery programmes are on TV at least six-thousand times a year and yet folks can't even forage a wild herb casserole with a stinging nettle puree. I imagine that Jenkin would have claimed that Britain has gone to the dogs, but then she realised dogs are pretty remarkable foragers.

This antiquated 'blame the poor' rhetoric demonstrates that the present government believe they are no longer responsible for helping the most vulnerable. Thankfully, this rhetoric is entirely disconnected from the aspirations of the majority of British people. The anger, the demonstrations, the donations and the volunteer work shows that British people, unlike the political elite, aren't blaming the poor. They, as mentioned, are blaming the political elite. And rather than sitting comfortably and evading the issue, as those at the top are so fond of doing, they are taking action.

Two polarising narratives dominate the food bank debate. One is heaping blame on the most vulnerable, while the other holds those at the top culpable. British people, for the most part, lean towards the latter. This, to me, isn't about political ideology, but rather common sense. The Trusell Trust, Britain's largest food bank charity, has noted a clear connection between austerity policies and the rising demand for food banks. The primary reason for food bank referrals is sanctions or delays to benefits - which is symptomatic of the austerity argument advocated by the 'blame the poor' brigade. The secondary reason is low wages - another symptom of austerity. To blame the poor for the rise of food banks has no basis in logic and is simply a platitude adopted by those that are struggling to lie their way out of a corner. Blaming those in poverty for the rise in poverty is offensive and has unsurprisingly provoked anger. In this anger, there is hope.

When you vote in couple of weeks' time, consider the volunteers that travel around Britain collecting food for those in poverty. Imagine the folks that altruistically add a few extra items to their shopping lists to feed people in their communities. Think about the armchair activists donating a tenner to keep food banks afloat, or the remarkable individuals, such as Chris Mould, executive chair of the Trussell Trust, who dedicate all their time and energy to such an important cause. And remember the British folk angered by the state's complete failure to tackle poverty. These individuals give us hope for the future of Britain. We must remember that there is still a desire in Britain to help the less fortunate. That desire can ensure that the political elite are held accountable. The anger created by the rise of food banks can force those in power to tackle this issue. And the ensuing hope can finally put an end to the march of the 'blame the poor' brigade.

Before You Go