When the SKWAWKBOX first looked at Foodbank usage statistics in 2013, it was clear that they cast a stark light on Tory claims to be a ‘one nation’ party and to any semblance of ‘economic competence’. Yet somehow, they were able to ‘fool enough of the people enough of the time’ to retain power in 2015.
Things have only got worse. Will we be fooled again – or will we see them for the charlatans they are?
In July 2015, then-Chancellor George Osborne instituted what he called a ‘national living wage’, in a cynical attempt to steal Labour’s thunder on wages. Labour accused the Tories of misleading, pointing out that it was in fact a slightly higher (and very conditional) minimum wage, well below actual ‘living wage’ levels.
They were largely ignored by the media.
The latest half-year figures by Trussell Trust (TT) suggest that at least 255,000 ’emergency 3-day food packs’ had to be given to working people because of low wages in the year 2015/16. That’s over a quarter of a million working people fed by just one food charity because even though they were working, their wages were so low. The number of people who scraped by on payday loans and charity from family and friends will be far higher.
Yet just this month, Theresa May claimed that there’s nothing wrong with the ‘fundamentals’ of our economy. Again, her claim has been regularly parroted by the media as if factual.
But if ‘strong fundamentals’ mean this many working people needing food charity, it shows just how skewed is her idea of what matters in the economy.
TT reports that no less than 23% of those using Foodbanks over the past year were working people whose wages were so low that they couldn’t buy food – 255,000 of the more than 1.1 million people who needed their help overall.
But the reality is that the figures of working people in poverty is far higher. Of the more than 1,000 foodbanks in the UK, TT runs fewer than half – so the 250,000 working users is more likely to be over half a million. And don’t forget those people who only didn’t need a foodbank’s help because they were able to borrow, or to get help from friends or family.
It ain’t no choice, bruv
If you’re of an inclination to believe the Tories’ suggestions about the growth in foodbank usage, for example that people use them because they can’t cook or that they just ‘like free stuff‘, get a grip.
You do not ‘choose’ to go to a foodbank. Almost every foodbank, and 100% of TT foodbanks, require you to be referred to them by a professional, such as a social worker, health visitor or schools liaison officer, in order to gain help. What’s more, imagine being in such straits that you have to be sent to a charity for an ’emergency food pack’. The humiliation must be intense.
Tory ministers and spokespeople know this, but choose to say differently anyway. The idea that foodbank use is in any way a choice is a lie – and a frankly evil one.
The wrong kind of growth
In 2009/10 – the last year of Labour government – just over 40,000 packs were distributed by TT. That’s over 40,000 too many. But under the Tories, Foodbank usage has grown every year, to over 1.1m in the last full year just through TT:
The Tories, unbelievably, tried shamelessly to spin these figures, in a staggering piece of ‘whataboutery’, claiming that growth under Labour had been ‘tenfold’ – but the picture above really does paint a thousand words, and more besides.
Even more scandalous is the fact that over 27% of people referred to foodbanks arrived there because of benefit delays – the number one reason:
Those on benefits are already known to be in need, yet even without any delays, claimants can easily be waiting for 8 weeks because of the inbuilt processing times in Universal Credit and other benefits:
Add in the more than 15% of referrals that arise because of ‘changes to benefits’ – which will include many people summarily sanctioned to meet targets that the DWP denies exist even when it’s proven – and almost half of foodbank users are there because our so-called ‘safety net’ has failed them.
Not so much ‘benefits in kind’ as ‘benefits unkind’ – and by design.
The lottery you don’t want to ‘win’…
The government’s favourite lottery – the postcode variety – is also strongly at play, with some areas faring even worse than the national picture. Take Wirral in the north-west, for example, which is right on the national average for low income but considerably higher for people impacted by benefit delays, at 33%, and which saw an overall increase in referrals of 18%, compared to a national average of just over 2%:
Not just stats – people
It’s all too easy to look at numbers just as numbers, so falling into line with the Tory narrative of competence, as if positive numbers in one section of the economy balances our bad news in another.
But while this article presents numbers, every one of these numbers is a person. Every ‘delay’, every low-paying job, means broken families, broken people and children in poverty. Almost 4 million children – even more than those reflected in TT’s figures. More than one in four.
Just so we don’t forget that we’re talking people, including children, in poverty, in this government’s ‘fundamentally strong’ economy:
Fool me once…
The Tories have consistently misrepresented the growth in Foodbank use and its reasons. They appear currently to be ignoring it, while they focus on ‘Brexit is Brexit’, ‘cards close to our chest’ nonsense and try, risibly, to claim that the UK economy is fundamentally sound, in spite of the myriad signs of social and financial collapse.
If they fooled you once, shame on them. Don’t let them make a mug of you and those you know by getting away with the same, tired old lies again and again.
Regardless what they say, an economy based on a system that pushes so many of its people into such dire circumstances, that punishes even the most vulnerable based on where they live, that is intentionally structured to leave people bereft of even the most basic support for weeks at a time, is anything but sound – and the Tories are anything but ‘economically competent’.
And if they fool us again into standing by and letting them continue and increase the human cost, shame on us.