Recent figures from End Hunger UK indicate that over one in ten adults and almost one in four parents with children under the age of 18 have skipped a meal because of a lack of money. The Trussell Trust has also recorded that food bank usage across the UK is at a record high with a 13% increase in 2017-18 compared to the previous year.
These statistics are shocking, and I believe It is shameful that in the world’s fifth largest economy a vast section of society is experiencing food poverty. Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty. But increasingly benefits are unable to cover essential living costs and issues with payments remain one of the most common reasons for referral to a foodbank.
For example, the minimum five weeks wait for a first Universal Credit (UC) payment, experienced by those moving onto the benefits system, has dramatically fuelled food bank use increases. The problem doesn’t end there. On average, 12 months after UC rollout, Trussell Trust foodbanks saw a 52% increase in demand.
UC was intended to lift people out of poverty. Unfortunately, the programme has been used as a vehicle for this Government’s appalling austerity agenda. I have previously called for the Government to scrap its rollout of UC in Parliament for this very reason however, this has fallen on deaf ears. But the impacts cannot be ignored for much longer.
In the week before Christmas my local foodbank in Penge gave out over 300 food parcels. It’s outrageous that at a time of year when most people are celebrating, Tory austerity has meant that many are having to rely on foodbanks. On my return to Parliament this month I called for an urgent debate on the impact Tory austerity has had on food bank usage and food poverty across the UK. Unsurprisingly my question was evaded.
The small consolation on this issue is the generosity of our community. The Penge foodbank and our nearest Trussell Trust foodbank in Lewisham receive so many donations that they struggle to find space to accommodate it all. After liaising with our local Trussell Trust and Lewisham Council on this matter I am pleased to say that Lewisham have been able to find the Trussell Trust some free Council space to help store this surplus. I am still making representations to Bromley Council on this issue for the Penge foodbank.
We need to do everything in our power to address this shameful increase in food poverty across the UK. A start would be for the Government to ensure benefits payments reflect the cost of living and to reduce the waiting time for UC payments. However, ultimately the Government needs to stop the rollout of UC and deliver a social security system that supports people rather than one that pushes many into poverty.