Food poverty has been hitting the headlines recently, as UK hunger spreads. At FareShare the charities we serve have seen a 40% increase in demand for food in the past year, with many reporting that as well as supporting rough sleepers, asylum seekers and the vulnerably housed there are now young families and pensioners queuing for food too.
Why is this happening? Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows 5.8 million people in the UK are living in ‘deep poverty’ – where household income is at least one-third below the poverty line – the highest proportion ever recorded. Inflation is at a 3 year high, which means that families already struggling to pay for food, fuel, clothes, travel and other basic costs are finding it even harder to make ends meet. And in addition to this, 40% of the charities we support are facing budget cuts, with two thirds of these charities slashing their food budgets in an effort to stay afloat.
Despite this evidence some people believe that food poverty isn’t a problem in the UK, and that if people are going hungry it’s because they’re choosing to fritter away their money on lottery tickets, cigarettes, and other ‘luxuries’. Edwina Currie, ex Health Minister, voiced these feelings on a BBC Radio 5Live phone in this week, to the outrage of two listeners who had phoned in to talk about their own experiences of going hungry.
The misguided belief that the “irresponsible poor” are to blame for their own hunger is distracting people from the real issues, namely: record unemployment, food price inflation, and spending cuts that are real causes of hardship and hunger. It’s easy to blame individuals for their situations, much harder to looks at the root causes of these problems and choose to be part of the solution.
This week I received a handwritten letter from a woman asking for food. She writes that ‘with the bills there is not much left for food.’ Her wish list is extremely modest, asking for tins of beans, cereals, eggs and potatoes, ‘as these things fill the belly just as much as an expensive meal’. We’ve put her in touch with sources of local support and I really hope that her situation improves, but this is just one example of the dozens of calls, emails and letters that we get at FareShare every week from people asking for help. I’m not claiming that these calls constitute a scientific sample, but it is clear beyond doubt that UK hunger is real.
With people continuing to ask FareShare and other charities for food, my question to Edwina Currie and others who share her views is ‘How many people have to go to bed hungry before you take this seriously, how hungry do people have to be?’
Lindsay Boswell is the CEO of FareShare, a UK charity that fights hunger and food waste by rescuing surplus food from the food industry and getting it to a network of charities who then use it to feed vulnerable and disadvantaged people. FareShare is one of our partners and we are campaigning together and working to expand their network of food banks across the UK.