Millions of people up and down the UK are facing abject poverty. This is a very real crisis and one that is largely avoidable if those in power choose to do something about it. We are teetering on the edge of a return to the Victorian slums and poverty conditions of a bygone era. So-called ‘Victorian’ diseases are on the rise with scurvy, rickets and malnutrition at an all-time high in recent years.
The harsh reality: malnutrition and foodbanks
In the fiscal year 2022-2023 The Times reported that just shy of 11,000 people were hospitalised with malnutrition in England; 312 of those were children. 482 people were treated for rickets, of which 405 were children, and 171 people were treated for scurvy.
When the Conservatives came into power in 2010 there were 35 Trussell Trust foodbanks in the UK which gave out a total of a little over 61,000 food parcels that year. By 2022, according to the Commons Library, the total number of foodbanks had grown to 2,600 (not including soup kitchens or social supermarkets). This map is a harsh reminder of the scale of the reality that we are facing. Every single red dot represents a foodbank. In the fiscal year 2022-2023 nearly three million food parcels were handed out by the Trussel Trust foodbanks alone, an increase of an incredible 4,900%.
Child food poverty
Children are so desperately hungry that some have resorted to eating rubbers or stealing each other’s food, with teachers reporting that some of their pupils are falling asleep in class as a direct result of hunger and thirst. Nearly 80% of teachers surveyed have reported seeing children come into school hungry once a week with a shocking 36% reporting that it happens daily. As reported previously, UNICEF was forced to intervene in 2020 to feed the UK’s children for the first time in its near 80-year history. Instead of doing something proactive about it several Conservative MPs have made comments that are akin to that of Marie Antoinette’s ‘Let them eat brioche’ moment.
Last year Johnny Mercer MP claimed that food bank usage is a choice. Former Conservative Party Deputy Chair, Lee Anderson, claimed that people who use foodbanks “cannot cook” and need to budget better, even going so far as to suggest that those who rely on foodbanks waste their cash on cigarettes, alcohol and TV. Anderson, who is widely known on social media as ‘30p Lee’, also claimed in the Commons that meals could be cooked “for about 30 pence a day”. Who can forget the photo of a Conservative mayor adorned in a gold chain opening a foodbank in her constituency, laughing and beaming as if it was something to be proud of. Simon Clarke MP for Middlesborough and South Cleveland sparked a backlash when he suggested that nurses relying on foodbanks needed to budget better.
A nation in crisis
The latest end of year statistics from the Trussell Trust are a shocking indictment of a society failing its people. But foodbanks are not the only thing on the rise in the UK. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) there were around 3,000 warm banks and warm spaces in the UK in 2022, although updated numbers suggest that that has risen to 4,000. This map from the WEF shows the location of each individual warm bank.
People are becoming more and more reliant on the generosity of strangers, on charity and on individuals setting up organisations to aid those in need. One such organisation is the Baby Bank Alliance which operates more than 200 baby banks in the UK.
Is the government failing its people?
This is nothing short of a systematic failure of government. In the sixth largest economy in the world, it almost beggars belief that nearly one-fifth of the population are now living below the poverty line. You’d be forgiven for thinking that those who use foodbanks, warm banks and baby banks are unemployed. However, the reality is that 61% of adults in poverty live in a household with at least one income and that 71% of children living in poverty live in a working household. Only recently the Mirror ran an article on a primary school teacher living in his car.
With the NHS already cracking at the seams due to budget cuts and a lack of funding, the strain being put on it as a result of fuel and food poverty (and more) is immeasurable. Last year it was reported that children were being hospitalised with hypothermia as a result of the cost of living crisis and families being unable to afford to heat their homes. In an utterly avoidable tragedy an 87-year-old woman died of profound hypothermia in her own home.
Despite what some Conservative MPs will have you believe the rise in dependency on foodbanks is not a cause for celebrations or a photo opportunity; it is not “uplifting” as Jacob Rees Mogg has claimed. Sheryll Murray MP claimed that she was “really pleased we have foodbanks” in her constituency. It’s almost like they are experiencing epicaricacy.
The stranglehold of poverty
In one of the most heartbreaking reads the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has reported that 14.4mn people were living in poverty last year which equates to 21.39% of the UK population. This cannot and should not be allowed to continue. Too often politicians utilise convenient world events to excuse a lack of action. We have seen Covid 19 blamed for the cost of living crisis, then Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; however, since the pandemic, support has ended and poverty has gone up. This graph, which shows that before Covid and the invasion of Ukraine foodbank usage was already rising alarmingly, contradicts those claims.
There is not one area of the UK that has escaped the tightening grip of poverty. The largest impacted area is the West Midlands, the heart of the so called ‘Red Wall’, where a staggering 38% of children live in poverty.
The fact remains that the government continues to fail the nation and its children. As more and more people find themselves living in hardship, what happens when the help they’re currently receiving dries up? The Trussell Trust has already said that demand is rising and donations are falling. Simply put, if nothing is done and nothing changes, the conditions written about in Dickensian literature will become tomorrow’s reality.