Food bank use up 15 per cent in South East

‘Callous’ austerity measures, Universal Credit, low incomes and an ever-higher cost of living are contributing to a continued rise in the use of food banks in the South East of England and across the UK. Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East, explores the issue in his new report.

Non perishable foods donated in Birmingham
Non perishable foods donated in Birmingham

Flickr / Birmingham City Council / cc-by-2.0

Food donated to Birmingham City Council's Woodcock Street food bins

Green World

The use of food banks in the South East of England has risen dramatically over 2017, according to a new report from Green MEP Keith Taylor states.

Published today (Monday 4 March), the report, titled ‘Escalating Hunger in the South East’, reveals that from 2017 to 2018, there was a 15 per cent increase overall in the number of people making use of food banks in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Kent and the Isle of Wight.

Buckinghamshire saw the biggest increase, with the number of emergency food parcels handed out going up by 83 per cent from 2017 to 2018. Only the Isle of Wight reduced its figures (by 15 per cent). And the picture is reflected across the UK, with the latest figures from food bank charity Trussell Trust showing that there has been a 13 per cent increase in the handout of emergency food supplies from its food banks.

Taylor’s publication builds on 2017’s Escalating Hunger report, which showed that from 2013 to 2017, food bank dependency in the South East rose by 19.9 per cent. Since then, the rollout of Universal Credit, as well as continued austerity measures and cuts to public services, have contributed to an even steeper rise in the use of food banks in the last year alone.

Trussell Trust data shows that the main reasons people are accessing food banks are low income, delays to benefits, changes to benefits and debt. While unemployment in the UK is at its lowest since 1975, according to the Office for National Statistics, at four per cent – something Prime Minister Theresa May has been keen to shout about – more people than ever are in zero hours contracts that do not provide a guaranteed income.

In addition to the increasing use of food banks, the number of people sleeping rough on the streets in England has risen by 165 per cent since 2010. Although 2018 did see a marginal reduction in figures from the previous year, down by two per cent, the number of people sleeping rough in all the major cities went up. The London Borough of Enfield reported the highest change, with an increase of 797 per cent, going from nine people in 2017 to 78 in 2018.

Taylor, who has been Green MEP for the South East of England since 2010, said: "Ministers' punitive, mean-spirited and callous austerity, including the dismal Universal Credit reform and swingeing welfare cuts, has seen an 85 per cent rise in food bank reliance nationwide over the last five years.”

"In just the last twelve months, the government has overseen at least another 15 per cent rise in food bank dependency in my constituency alone. It is disgusting.”

Taylor continued: "Low income continues to be the single biggest reason why people are forced to seek emergency food aid. In the UK, there are 14 million people living in poverty. Four and a half million of those are children. And seven million are from working households. A shocking 60 per cent of Britons in poverty are working.

Taylor referenced the 2018 statement from Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who described the Universal Credit system as ‘fast falling into Universal Discredit.’ Alston pointed to the five week delay for claimants between filing a successful claim and receiving their benefits, a delay that can often take up to 12 weeks and ‘pushes many who may already be in crisis into debt, rent arrears, and serious hardship, requiring them to sacrifice food or heat.’

"My report reveals a shameful side of the British economy that is deliberately hidden from view by the government,” Taylor concluded. ”As wages fail to keep pace with the cost of living, which is, in turn, pushed up by the continuing Brexit shambles, and as the government continues to push ahead with Universal Credit, food banks across the country are being forced into ‘crisis response’ mode."

"Food banks are a lifeline to those in need across the South East but they continue to be a stain on the Tories’ record on poverty. Some will say poverty isn’t political. Greens reject this. Poverty is clearly political and, for us, its elimination will always be a top priority."

The full report, ‘Escalating Hunger in the South East’, can be found on hosting site Scribd.