Food Bank Britain In austerity politics state drops responsibility for preventing hunger Maddy Power &Equality Trust

7 April 2017

The index for our series of nine blogs on health equality is here.  It follows our ten blogs on affordble housing whose index can be found here. 

 

TAP health equality campaign Blog 9.

Food Bank Britain: who is responsible? 

Madeleine Power,  Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett:

University of York and Equality Trust

Summary

Amid the politics of austerity, the state is relinquishing its responsibility for preventing hunger.

  1. Being food secure means being sure of your ability to secure, at all times, enough food of sufficient quality and quantity to allow you to stay healthy and participate in society.
  2. The rise from the 61,468 food parcels which were given out by the Trussell Trust  in 2010/11 to 1.1 million people in 2015-2016 does not reflect the number of people living with insufficient food in the UK today:
  3. Food security figures released in the last week of March by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) show that 13 per cent of UK adults are only marginally food secure and that 8 per cent have low or very low food security.
  4. In deprived areas, such as Bradford, we have found that 14 per cent of women with young children cannot afford to put food on the table.
  5. Reduced entitlement, increased conditionality and the restructuring of and reduction in state-provided crisis support have pushed people to seek emergency help with food.
  6. Difficulties include inappropriate sanctioning decisions, errors made in declaring people on Employment Support Allowance fit for work and, more generally, ineffective administration of welfare payments.
  7. The survey of GPs has only been conducted for two years. 16 per centsaid they had been asked to refer patients to a food bank in the first year and 22 per cent in the second year.  
  8. NHS statistics show that 7366 people were admitted to hospital with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition between August 2014 and July this year, compared with 4,883 cases in the same period from 2010 to 2011 – a rise of more than 50 per cent in just four years.’

     

Food Bank Britain: who is responsible?

Madeleine Power, Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett:

University of York and Equality Trust”

The early months of 2017 have seen a torrent of research warning of rising inequalityi and falling living standardsii for the poor. The Resolution Foundation found that the current parliament would be the worst in terms of living standards for the poorest half of households since comparable records began in the mid-1960s and the worst since sharp rises in inequality under Thatcher between 1985 and 1990.  Rising inflation, stagnating wages and welfare cuts will hit the worst-off households hardest, while at the same time incomes rise by about 5 per cent for the richest fifth over the next four years.iii

The rise of food banks and the increasing need for help with foodiv has brought to light the depth and extent of poverty in austerity Britain. And yet the rise from the 61,468 food parcels which were given out by the Trussell Trust  to 1.1 million people in 2015-2016v does not reflect the number of people living with insufficient food in the UK today: Food security figures released in the last week of March by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) show that 13 per cent of UK adults are only marginally food secure and that 8 per cent have low or very low food security.

Being food secure means being sure of your ability to secure, at all times, enough food of sufficient quality and quantity to allow you to stay healthy and participate in society. There is also evidence that food insecurity may be particularly acute in deprived areas, such as Bradford, where we have found that 14 per cent of women with young children cannot afford to put food on the table.vi

The growth in numbers visiting Trussell Trust foodbanks has occurred alongside the initiation and development of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s punitive programme of welfare reform (continued by the current 2015 Conservative government). This includes the tightening of eligibility criteria as well as changes and cuts to council tax benefit, child benefits and tax credits.

Changes to social security entitlements and problematic welfare processes are seen by many food charity providers to be driving the need for food bank provision. Reduced entitlement, increased conditionality and the restructuring of and reduction in state-provided crisis support have pushed people to seek emergency help with food. The abolition of the discretionary social fund and its replacement with short-term benefit advances and local welfare assistance has caused confusion over what people may be entitled to and how support can be accessed.

Getting access to welfare payments can be very difficult for many people, all too often leaving people without any income whatsoever. Difficulties include inappropriate sanctioning decisions, errors made in declaring people on Employment Support Allowance fit for work and, more generally, ineffective administration of welfare payments.

Reflecting this, almost 45 per cent of referrals to Trussell Trust foodbanks between September and April 2016 were caused by benefit delays and benefit changes, while recent work at Oxford University has found that sanctions are closely linked with rising need for emergency food assistance.vii The very inadequacy of social security payments for a minimum standard of living may itself be a factor behind rising food insecurity. Among all women with young children in Bradford, a third in receipt of Income Support and over a quarter in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance reported food insecurity, pointing to the insufficiency of this state support for women with young children at a crucial time of life.

The rapid spread of foodbanks has raised concerns from the UK’s Faculty of Public Health that “the welfare system is increasingly failing to provide a robust last line of defence against hunger.”viii As people become increasingly desperate, lines of responsibility between the state, civil society and varying members of public services are becoming blurred. Physicians have key roles as advocates, however in the current food bank system they are adopting gatekeeper roles, The survey of GPs has only been conducted for two years; 16 per cent who said they had been asked to refer patients to a food bank in the first year and 22 per cent in the second year.  7366 people were admitted to hospital with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition between August 2014 and July this year,x compared with 4,883 cases in the same period from 2010 to 2011 – a rise of more than 50 per cent in just four years.’ Action to rectify problematic welfare processes and inadequate social security entitlements is urgently required.

Trussell Trust foodbanks are the most well known organisation helping people struggling to afford food, but there are many other forms of support (collectively known as food aid) that are just as active. These include independent food banks, soup kitchens, community cafes and community allotments.  It is clear that food charities rather than the government are responding to people’s food needs in local communities. Should we really sit back and accept a situation in which charities, rather than the state, are responsible for alleviating poverty in the UK?

Food charities are working hard to meet the needs of people failed by the welfare state but it seems we are going backwards. Food aid reflects a pre-welfare state system of food distribution supported by charity. In this context, staff, working in a sector that is unregulated, may distribute assistance according to their ideas of “deservingness” or adherence to standards of behaviour.xi As the distribution of food aid grows, we are going back into the past.  Amid the politics of austerity, the state is relinquishing its responsibility for preventing hunger.

i http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/living-standards-2017-the-past-present-and-possible-future-of-uk-incomes/

ii https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/nov/24/ifs-warnsf-biggest-squeeze-on-pay-for-70-years-autumn-statement

iii https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jan/31/theresa-may-inequality-margaret-thatcher-resolution-foundation

iv Loopstra R, Fledderjohann J, Reeves A, Stuckler D. The impact of benefit sanctioning on food insecurity: a dynamic cross-area study of food bank usage in the UK. Oxford: University of Oxford. 2016.

v Trussell Trust. Foodbank use tops one million for first time says Trussell Trust. Trussell Trust 2016.

vi Power M, Uphoff EP, Kelly B, et al. (2016) Food insecurity and mental health: An analysis of routine primary care data of pregnant women in the Born in Bradford cohort. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

vii Loopstra R, Fledderjohann J, Reeves A, Stuckler D. The impact of benefit sanctioning on food insecurity: a dynamic cross-area study of food bank usage in the UK. Oxford: University of Oxford. 2016.

viii Ashton JR, Middleton J, Lang T. Open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron on food poverty in the UK. The Lancet. 383:1631.

ix Matthews-King A. Increasing number of GPs asked to refer patients to foodbanks. Pulse 2015.

x Kirby D. Malnutrition and 'Victorian' diseases soaring in England 'due to food poverty and cuts'. The Independent. 2015 28 October.

xi Power M, Doherty B, Small N, et al. (2017) All in it Together? Community Food Aid in a Multi-Ethnic Context. Journal of Social Policy: 1-25.

 

 

 


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