Barry Gardiner was left taken aback, live on the BBC, by a Conservative MP’s comments about food banks. They follow on from Jacob Rees-Mogg saying that food banks were “uplifting”, and that they showed what a “compassionate country” we are. But Gardiner was having none of it, as he said food bank use “shames us” all.
Food banks: “modern living”. If you’re a Tory.
Gardiner was appearing on BBC Radio Four‘s Westminster Hour on Sunday 17 September, alongside Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk George Freeman and Lib Dem Layla Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon. But when the discussion turned to food banks, Freeman had some choice comments about their use.
I don’t think he was trying to say what has been implied… that food banks are… a great thing and we want more of them… Food banks went up 10 times under Tony Blair…
But Freeman then seemed to imply that we should just accept food banks. He said [0.50]:
It’s been part of modern living. The cost of living has gone up… there are some issues… there are very different sorts of people with different problems…
Gardiner nails it in one minute
Gardiner, however, seemed incensed by Freeman’s response. He snapped back [1.45] that:
In the fifth richest country in the world, it shames us as a society that we have people who are in work and dependent on food banks…
He went on to reference the Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake, saying that the scenes depicted in the film are a reality for people in the UK and that is “not right”.
Food banks are a reality for potentially millions of people in the UK. As The Canary has documented, since the Tories first came to power in 2010:
- The number of three-day food packages sent out by the Trussell Trust rose from 40,898 to 1,182,954 by 2016-17. That’s an increase of 2,792%.
- And the real figures are much worse. The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hunger estimates that more than half of the emergency food issued comes from organisations independent from the Trussell Trust’s figures.
- An Oxford University study has confirmed a “robust link” between the stripping down of the welfare state and food bank use.
- Trussell Trust food banks in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out have seen a 16.85% increase in referrals to them.
- Almost 70% of Trussell Trust food bank referrals were due to low wages and benefit delays or changes.
A growing stain
Freeman also claimed [1.12] that Tory policies are “creating jobs, giving people a living wage and… build[ing] security into the workplace”. But so far, these policies have seen:
- More than 14 million people in the UK now living in relative poverty. But officially, only 1.6 million people are unemployed.
- The number of children living in poverty rising by 400,000 between 2010-11 and 2015-16 to four million.
- 66% of children who live in poverty coming from working households.
- Nearly half of all poverty in the UK being directly linked [pdf p1] to disability.
Freeman can claim all he wants that government policies are the best way to tackle food bank use and poverty. But the evidence suggests otherwise.
As Gardiner alluded to, the reality is that food bank use is a growing stain on UK society. And it’s one that isn’t going to be easily washed away.
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