Food Poverty in the U.K

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With one quarter of children in poverty in this country, and that number set to increase, Foodbanks are playing a vital role in curbing the impact of the decline in national income. It is food which is the real problem for Britain’s poor, and it is key to breaking the poverty cycle for millions of young children.

With the average household budget at £419 a week, and falling, many are unable to support themselves. 3.5 million children in this country live in households which struggle to survive on £251 or less; this is the government’s current threshold for measuring the nation’s poor. 4% of all children in the U.K live in severe poverty, around 1.6 million, with their household earning even less! Around £134 a week.

With average rental prices at £867PCM and rising, accompanied by fuel price increases (6 million families already live in fuel poverty), budgets all over the country are being crushed under a double burden of falling incomes and rising prices.

Many are quick to blame the hungry. Addiction, wastefulness and lack of prudence are obviously reasons why some have less money in their banks than others. But there are more wide-ranging, systematic failures which have led to vast swathes of people being forced to cut food from their spending.

Foodbanks work by getting frontline care officials like social workers, job centres, schools or the police to refer people in crisis to their local foodbank, issued with a foodbank voucher. Those who are struggling to make ends meet are offered help, however by their own admission foodbanks are barely scratching the surface.

Foodbank themselves suggest up to 43% of those whom they serve are in a state of benefit flux. Not only are income supports modest for most, but they are also increasingly fragile. Latest statistics measuring the amount of JSA claimants who faced sanctions  suggest around 167,000 people were subject to benefit withdrawal in the three months leading up to Feburary 2012. Some of up to 26 weeks without payment, many even faced complete cancellation.

As a result, three types of noticeable food poverty prevail – with the exception of the 5% of Foodbank users who are homeless, most are either

  1. The working poor
  2. Those seeking work
  3. Those without benefits or income at all

Children rarely if ever seek foodbank parcels themselves, though teens are a grey area. Still, there were 2.55 million children living in an out of work home in May 2011, they represented 1.35 million households. 1.77 million of the 6.52 million claiming housing benefit in December 2012 had at least on child dependant, and 1.2 million of those were single parents. As this raft of statistics suggest, children bear the brunt of food poverty. 36% of all foodbank recipients are children. Families make up a large block of those using the service.

The link between poor nutrition and achievement in school, among other areas, is clear. Kids who are poorly fed are more likely to misbehave, will struggle to pay attention in class and will develop slower than their peers. Poor nutrition will generally contribute to the poverty cycle they could find themselves stuck in during later life, and even their children as well.

The benefit system was designed to provide security to those who found themselves victims of the employment system. It is not a luxury afforded to those who cannot work; it is a necessity of our collective economic choices. Currently it is failing to keep children out of a cycle of poverty and joblessness, and is forcing their parents to make impossible choices. Sometimes in the winter this choice can be as stark as a warm house or a warm meal.

I have witnessed first-hand the effect that hunger can have on young children, having worked with Kidz Klub Coventry for the last few years. With 59,000 people on JSA in Coventry alone and 16% of all children in the West Midlands in severe poverty, food and poverty are inextricably linked. Free school meals are not enough. If the government wishes to combat the child poverty cycle it needs to address the crippling effects of squeezed budgets in many of the poorest areas of the country. The green new deal goes some way to helping, but more affordable housing projects must follow. Easily made, healthy meals must be cheap and available. Cooking, and the frozen food meal culture need to be further addressed. Foodbanks are a necessity for some, and it is an area the government have neglected.

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