The Facts on the Rise of Food Poverty

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Yesterday saw Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, attack the United Nations Children’s Charity; UNICEF for pledging £25,000 to help feed children in South London. Mr Rees-Mogg called the action a “political stunt” after being challenged on why the UN aid agency’s new £700,000 fund to help community groups in the United Kingdom should even be required. While the Government claims ot has taken more people out of Poverty than ever before, the statistics from Foodbanks and charities paints a different picture. 4.6 million children are in poverty right now.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), originally known as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, was created by the United Nations General Assembly on 11 December 1946 to provide emergency food and healthcare to children and mothers in countries that had been devastated by World War II. In 1950, UNICEF’s mandate was extended to address the long-term needs of children and women in developing countries everywhere.

For the first time in the agencies 70-year history, UNICEF has launched a domestic fund to help children in the United Kingdom. In total, £700,000 will be given to community groups across the UK and NI.

Jacob Rees-Mogg singled out one particular funding pledge for criticism. The UN agency have pledged £25,000 to a community project called School Food Matters. The group has said it will use the money to supply 18,000 nutritious breakfasts to 25 schools over the two-week Christmas holidays, also the February half-term break. Vulnerable children and families in Southwark, south London, who have been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic will benefit from the much needed assistance.

The food delivery firm Abel & Cole will also be giving 1.2 tonnes of fruit and vegetables, worth £4,500, to include in the boxes.

Firstly, it is understandable that the government are somewhat embarrassed by UNICEF feeling compelled to get involved in the UK. After all, we’re more used to donating to them ourselves are seeing an advert for starving children in developing countries. However, it shouldn’t really surprise them considering the wealth of evidence indicating the rise if food poverty in the the UK.

The Rise of The Foodbank

Data from Foodbank Charity Trussell Trust showing the rise on food parcels being distributed – Credit: Trussell Trust

When the coalition government came to power in 2010, the largest Foodbank Charity Trussell Trust gave out 41,000 three day emergency food parcels in 2009/2010. Contrast that to 2019/2020, and their latest data reveals the distribution of 1.9 million three-day supplies. It is important to note, that this is 1.9 million separate individuals receiving aid. Many people will use a foodbank more than once.

Still, a 46,241.5% increase in ten-years is an alarming statistic especially given this data only covers one foodbank charity, and not the estimated 2000 independent foodbanks run by community groups and religious institutes.

Repeated Warnings

Universal Credit really started to take over from legacy benefits in mid 2014. Even then charities started warning the government that more and more people had started asking for help to feed themselves.

In response to this, then Chancellor George Osborne froze benefit rates for five years. This left claimants watching food and utility prices rise, while their income remained static. It’s not difficult to see how this would lead to a problem going forward. SPOILER ALERT: It did.

By 2017, nearly every major think-tank and social charity had written a report on the alarming rise of food poverty. Worse still, they alerted the government to the disturbing rise of in-work poverty. This was partially fuelled by a rise in zero hour contracts, which just so happened to make employment statistics look utopian.

At one point the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) even started ordering staff to destroy any mention of referring benefit claimants to a foodbank. By this point in time, at least 1.6 million food parcels were being given to those in need.

Parents in Cardiff queuing for a Free Breakfast Club in 2018.

Schools tried their best to help parents on low-incomes with breakfast club and holiday schemes. However, so bad was it getting that parents would start queuing with their children hours before the school even opened just to guarantee their child would get something. This should have been been a wake up call. Still the DWP and Government pushed back claiming they had lifted children out of poverty.

In November 2018, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Professor Philip Alston visited the UK to assess the effects the Welfare Reforms and Austerity had had on people and communities. As is standard, prior to the visit he put out a call for evidence. This saw the UN having to implement an entirely new system due to the biggest response it had ever had. Food poverty came up a lot.

Everyone from devolved government’s, to charities and individuals submitted detailed reports and analysis’ of how they believed the policies had affected people. Reading through them they paint a desperate situation. Important note: The visit of any UN Special Rapporteur is ALWAYS at the invite of the host country. It is never imposed and cannot be described as a political smear campaign.

The final report was damning for the Conservative Government. Straight away then Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd attacked Philip Alston personally, rather than the facts of the report. This had been a common denominator since early 2013. A recent example of this tactic is Home Secretary Priti Patel’s attacks branding solicitors helping asylum seekers as: “lefty lawyers and do-gooders”.

Trussell Trust have reported their biggest ever six-month statistics as a result of the pandemic. From March to August they gave out 1.2 million food parcels.

A COVID Wake Up Call

It would be hard for anyone to argue that foodbank use hasn’t been rising rapidly in recent years. If anything, I suspect the steady stream of articles on this issue has normalised it to an extent. No longer are people shocked that their fellow citizens cannot even afford basic sustenance.

However, attitudes have been changing in recent months due to the fall out from job loss and furlough as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. People who’d never had any interaction with the social security system, have suddenly found out it’s not all Xboxes and 55″ TVs. To many, food poverty has become more than a news article.

Sadly, Boris Johnson’s Government has dug in so much, we’re now at the point where high profile celebrities like Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, has to shame the Government into helping feed school children.

It is campaigns like Rashford”s that have helped open the eyes of many to an issue they never thought would affect them. Football fans and other sportsman deserve a special mention. Despite attendance at matches being paused, all over the country they have come out to help struggling foodbanks feed their communities.

A yearly joint campaign is also once again upon us. YouTuber LADBABY is once again released a Charity single with all proceeds going to Trussell Trust. Last year they sensationally got to Christmas Number One with a Sausage Roll themed tune.

Change Not Sustain

While these campaigns do undoubtedly help in the here and now, they don’t address the issue. We shouldn’t need free breakfast clubs and foodbanks at all.

Our political class aren’t being much help in planning for the future either. What should be a purely human rights issue, has become a political football every party kicks around trying to claim moral superiority. Whilst the blame for the undeniable rise in food poverty lies squarely at the door of the Conservatives, opposition parties of late have been far too keen to talk about their part in x,y or z, but much less open about suggesting anything that can reverse the rise.

Jacob Rees-Mogg may think UNICEF getting involved is a political stunt, but the evidence shows that unless something is done, their intervention is going to be needed year after year.

It should be an embarrassment to the leaders of a developed nation like the UK. However, somehow they’re intent on just pretending everything is okay & helping sustain food poverty.

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