Another study has been published showing the inextricable link between welfare reform and the rising number of people turning to food banks and yet, the government still deny their welfare reform bill is causing hundreds of thousands of people the indignity of turning to food banks.
For the more rabid Conservatives in the cabinet, this is the dream that they envisioned when Cameron pontificated about “the Big Society” in 2006. This was supposed to be a departure from Thatcherite Conservatism. It was seen as a revival of ‘Red Toryism’ and was put in the sphere of one nation Conservatism.
The vision of the big society was that some powers would be transferred from the state to local charities and voluntary organisations. This meant that society would in theory get bigger because more people would get involved in their local communities. This would ulitmiately reduce the role of the state and in time, volunteers would eventually take over the running of services like local libraries and post offices. You don’t need to be a strident socialist to realise that this is a particularly terrible idea.
It isn’t unreasonable to expect your income tax contributions to deliver well funded public services and a social security safety net, but by eroding the role of the state, the Tories are playing a dangerous game. For most Conservatives though, rolling back the state is generally a good thing. But for those of us on the left, we wonder what the point of the state is, if it cannot provide jobs for people and healthcare, education and leisure facilities for people. Another thing we expect from our government is a social security safety net that we pay into when we work and expect that state to look after us when we have no work, we are sick, disabled and elderly. Instead of facing up to their responsibilities as an elected body, and exchanging taxation revenue for well run public services, Cameron et al are instead choosing to completely deconstruct the public sector in the name of their vile and disgusting ideology.
Private companies are becoming rife in the health service, free schools are being set up across the country by parent groups and charities who attract the most capable students from the most affluent backgrounds. Resources and teachers are being poured into free schools and “bog standard comps” are being overlooked and under resourced.
Perhaps though, the most haunting thing under this Tory government is the prevalence and rise in the number of people turning to foodbanks.
The reasons for this do vary but according to the latest report into foodbanks in the UK by CPAG, Oxfam and the Trussell Trust, many cases, if not the most, are linked to having some kind of benefit problem. Emergency Use Only found that people resorted to food banks as a last resort when other coping mechanisms had failed, such as local authority assistance. Accepting help from the food bank was often difficult for people to accept and was described by people using the food bank as “shameful”, “embarrassing” and “Unnatural”. It was found that people were generally facing a loss in income or an acute crisis and for around half to two thirds of all people this was linked to a problem with the benefit system, whether it was waiting on a benefit being processed, being sanctioned or being found fit for work and being transferred to another benefit. After the devolution of the social fund to local authorities, it was found that emergency assistance for people was not suffice. The social security system is supposed to act as a safety net for people who fall into crisis. It is supposed to ensure that people do not have to turn to food banks, but instead, the welfare system in the United Kingdom now facilitates having to turn to food banks.
The Department of Work and Pensions has been instructing staff on how to refer people to their local food bank, despite the government denying that food banks have become part of the welfare state. In a freedom of information request from The Guardian earlier this year, it was found that when people had been sanctioned by the Job Centre, they were being “signposted” to the local food bank as opposed to being told about hardship benefits and other forms of assistance such as local authority assistance. The Department of Work and Pensions insist that this is only “signposting” but statistics from the Renfrewshire Foodbank, tell another story.
In the Renfrewshire area, the second biggest referee to the local food bank is the Job Centre. So far this year, the local Job Centre have given out 373 vouchers for the local food bank. In total 3554 people have been fed by the Renfrewshire food banks. This is clear evidence that food banks have now become a part of the welfare state.
The Scottish Government Welfare Reform committee have also stated they believe that the evidence from organisations such as Citizen’s Advice is convincing and strong. In a report this June, they said:
“The committee is convinced by the volume and strength of the evidence it has received that there is a direct correlation between welfare reform and the increase in use of food banks. The Department of Work and Pensions benefit sanctions are one of the key components of welfare reform which are leading to an increase in need for food banks.”
Given that nearly one million people have had to access food banks in the past year, it is not unreasonable to assume that food banks have become part of the welfare state. Food banks are a sign of “a Dickensian model of welfare” and have no place in a prosperous society where the government should be able to feed it’s people. If government agencies are referring people to food banks then there is a fundamental problem at large.
It is, ultimately, clear to see that the Conservative’s plans for a “big society” are somewhat, inadvertently, coming into play. The Tories seem nonplussed that many of the most vulnerable people in society are turning to food banks, because if the responsibility is shifted away from them, it is one less undesirable to worry about.