“I was unable to eat” : food banks in Tory Britain

From the Kent International Socialists

The sight of Tory MPs laughing at stories of hungry families during a debate on the use of food banks in December was another demonstration of how out of touch the “Nasty Party” are with ordinary people. The Daily Mirror reported at the time: “In one of the most shameful episodes ever witnessed in Parliament, Tory backbenchers sniggered and hooted as Labour MP Fiona MacTaggart told of shocking scenes at her local Tesco, as people battled over cut-price fruit and veg.”

Labour MP Barry Gardiner said it was shocking that Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for the DWP, ‘smirked’ when told that half a million families are now using Food Banks.  IDS, however, refused to answer questions and instead his deputy Esther McVey was called to speak for the government. She provoked outrage when claiming “it was a good thing that more people were turning to Food Banks…we all have to pay back this £1.5 trillion debt personally. We are all trying to live within our means, change gear and make sure that we pay back all our debt.” This is laughable considering MP’s have just received an 11% pay rise and are able to claim expenses for their food.

By now every one of us will know someone who has had to use food banks. Stella, from Thanet in Kent tells her story:

Just recently I got into financial problems that were beyond my control. Without any other support from my family, I had to find ways of getting food and heating. I was unable to eat due to having no money.

A friend gave me a phone number for Kent Support, and said that they may be able to help.  To be honest I don’t like asking for help, especially when the help is from people I don’t know. It seemed strange – like begging, but having no other options I gave them a ring.

They were quite helpful on the end of the phone. I explained I was left with only £2 from my ESA [Employment and Support Allowance] payment, after the expenses I had going out, and so had no way to get any shopping and other essential items. They said that they were “usually a referral service from the Job Centre” and told me that it would have to go through the system and after a decision that I would receive a phone call back. I said fine. I did not think that I would hear back, but that afternoon they rang me and explained that I would receive so many days food and get help with my heating. I was very grateful that l was going to be getting a bit of help.

They rang me back the next day with the details of the food delivery, and sent me an email to get gas and electric via a credit voucher to take to a shop. Getting the voucher via email was a bit of a headache: waiting for it to happen, then having to get help to print it out.

To my amazement the food parcel was a lot more than I would be able to get normally with what money I receive. As well as basic food supplies there were cleaning and personal hygiene essentials too. They asked me about my dietary needs and those of others who I had living with me, and said that I could be prosecuted for giving false information.

Kent Support also explained that they are only able to provide this service three times a year and asked what the outcome would be if I didn’t receive help. I told them that it would mean I would go days without food and heating.

In Thanet there are now many charities and faith groups offering this service: St Pauls Church and the Salvation Army. The Catholic Church in Margate and the Methodist church in Broadstairs provide a small scale service for for those unable to afford to eat. All of the providers, including Kent Support, only deliver this service on alternate days of the week; nothing in the area is open over the weekend or for emergencies.

Poverty on this scale has not been seen in this country since the Great Depression of the thirties. The government has decided that the banker’s crisis of 2008, has to be paid for by us. The bankers and the bosses and their friends in government are trying to use the crisis to slash our services, wages, jobs and benefits. But all over the country resistance to the Tory cuts are being led by people like Stella.

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