One of the hallmarks of the Coalition Government has been its austerity rhetoric. Since May 2010, we have been told incessantly that the Labour Government left a huge deficit and that we must tighten our belts to reduce it.
Leaving aside the details as to the specific size of the deficit (nowhere near as substantial as our Parliamentary leaders would have us believe), this has, in practice meant that those at the bottom of the pile have shouldered the effects of many of the cuts.
I have written in previous columns about cuts to mental health services, which disproportionately affect those who may already be stigmatised and marginalised. People with mental health problems often find it difficult to gain employment and I am, unfortunately, all too used to seeing people in my day job who sometimes have money worries. But in the last few years I and my colleagues have noticed something else: a lot of the people we see don’t have enough food to eat and a significant proportion of them increasingly have to rely on food banks.
Whatever the effects of the global financial meltdown, the UK still has the sixth biggest economy in the world. You would imagine, if nothing else, that we could feed our citizens, but apparently we can’t.
One in five people in the UK is living in poverty. The number of people using food banks has increased more than fivefold since 2010 and, since 2012, the number of food banks in the UK has almost doubled. I and my healthcare colleagues regularly have to refer individuals and families for food vouchers because, in truth, we can’t do much to help your mental health problems when you haven’t even got the security of knowing there is food in the cupboard.
For all of us, survival is the priority. If you’re worrying about whether you can survive until you’re able to get some funds to buy a decent meal, everything else is irrelevant. It is hard to describe within the constraints of a comment piece, but the situations my colleagues and I hear of all too often are horrifying.
I am also a Trustee for the Al-Mizan Charitable Trust, a grant-giving organisation which supports those in poverty, across the UK, regardless of faith or background. One of our projects involves supporting a food bank: Sufra – NW London. Based in Kilburn, Sufra has provided food for over 3000 people, from all backgrounds, in the past six months and intends to launch training programmes to help vulnerable people learn how to cook and manage budgets. It is not going to solve the problem, but until there is wholesale change at the top of Government, it seems that vulnerable people will continue to have to depend on community projects to survive.