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Proletarian issue 57 (December 2013)
Breadline Britain: the rise of the food banks
Disgraceful attempts to blame the victims and let capitalism off the hook.
Four years ago, food banks were almost unheard of in Britain. This year, however, the Trussell Trust – Britain’s largest and only food poverty network – estimated that its food banks had assisted more than 150,000 people – 200 percent up on the year before – between the months of April and June, when benefit changes came into effect.

The trust also added that the problem has become so severe that some people using their services have handed items back, unable to afford the gas and electricity needed to cook them. Growing numbers of working people are now becoming accustomed to lives of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’.

As of August, new figures from the Citizens Advice Bureau show a 78 percent rise in enquiries about food banks in the past six months. According to a YouGov survey released in early November, 25 percent of British people are eating less meat this year than in 2012.

Further insight into the rise of food banks came in the form of a large wave of undeniable reality when in October the Red Cross initiated its first emergency food aid collections in Britain since WWII. The UK poverty director for Oxfam, Chris Johnes, emphasised the seriousness of the matter when he said “[the Red Cross] don’t do things for reasons of grandstanding at all. The fact they are doing this ... is a very clear signal of how serious things have become.”

The Red Cross concluded that austerity measures have compounded the ever-increasing problems of poverty and unemployment for large sections of working people across Europe. Statistics also indicate that more people are turning to theft to feed themselves, with retail crime losses in 2012-13 some 6.8 percent higher than in 2011-12.

Working people classified as being in ‘food poverty’ have, as a result of this dire situation, become increasingly reliant on charitable organisations to put food on the table. Rising food prices and utility bills leave many working people with little extra money once they’ve covered their essential living expenses.

Despite all this glaring evidence, the government persists in its denials and attacks against the working people – and continues to blame the poor for their poverty.

The government and many social-democratic opportunists would have us think the increasing numbers of people now relying on food banks only have themselves to blame. Minister Michael Gove, after spending just 30 minutes of his precious time visiting a food bank in his constituency one Friday afternoon, felt authorised to conclude that its clientele are in poverty because they are “irresponsible” and “chaotic” families “not best able to manage their finances”.

Such underhanded sweeping statements won’t fool anyone with even an ounce of sense. What is happening in reality is an attempt to dehumanise and scapegoat large sections of the working class as good-for-nothing, feckless ticks, not worth the water the government would use to hose them off the streets.

Of course, goes this narrative, the rise of food banks in Britain couldn’t possibly be attributed to imperialist wars, stagnant wages, benefit cuts, rising utility bills and high rents. And Lord forbid we use the ‘C’ word! As the jackbooted socio-paths in Westminster find it harder and harder to cover up the crisis of capitalism, their attacks on the working class have become more frequent and rabid.

In another disgusting attempt to encourage cynicism, the government has asserted that the rise in food banks is an example of supply creating its own ‘demand’, as opposed to being a result of a massive increase in poverty that is prompting working people to respond to the desperate need of other working people!

What is more, it must be stressed that people are not allowed to turn up to a food bank without a referral from a ‘professional’, like a doctor, social worker, or Jobcentre adviser. Strict monitoring takes place to prevent ‘misuse’ of these services.

People will only be served at food banks if they are issued a voucher by their state-approved referee. The voucher shows the reasons for the food emergency, and the food bank trust records the data. In some cases, the voucher is printed on a red card in order to render them unsuitable for photocopying.

So where do duplicitous, boneheaded zealots like Michael Gove get off with making sweeping statements that portray working people as digging their own graves through incompetent bookkeeping? We could assume that such lofty magistrates gain deep insights into the lives of Britain’s working ‘untermenschen’ by plucking heavenly morsels of Jackanory wisdom from the ether, considering that a token half-hour visit to a food bank as part of a self-aggrandising publicity campaign is nothing in comparison to the direct everyday experience and hard work of food bank volunteers.

But Gove’s disgusting attitude is not just the result of his having naïvely expressed an unthinking and inherited piece of bigotry. His is a case of an opportunist mover-and-shaker practising the high art of capitalist salesmanship in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle at the expense of those ‘beneath’ him. The true definition of a careerist, Gove is just one more (highly unpleasant) little cog in the vast machinery of lies and distortions that holds up the rotten edifice of this system.

Of course, talking about whether to blame the current or the previous government for the increase of benefit sanctions as a factor that further adds to the saga of food poverty is equally pointless, since what separates them in economics and policy is minimal! Labour, Tory and LibDem alike serve a common deity – capitalism.

People must wake up to the fact that merely treating the symptoms of a sick and rotten system rather than the root cause of the disease itself will only serve to obscure or ameliorate its contradictions a little bit longer – it will not to anything to solve those contradictions or to cure the ailing patient.

There is absolutely no reason for a shortage of food. Over £10bn-worth of food from supermarkets is turned out onto rubbish mountains in Britain each year, while thousands of families struggle to eat at all. The bosses of these supermarkets would rather hoard or throw food away that can’t be sold than distribute it for free to the poor. Thus the crisis of overproduction is demonstrated for all to see.

The latest research by scientists published in August shows that poverty actually contributes to creating cognitive dysfunction in its victims. Their explanation is that “Poverty captures attention, triggers intrusive thoughts, and reduces cognitive resources.” In other words, you get so worried about being poor that you find it more and more difficult to think straight.

Besides, their conclusion makes complete sense when we consider that the ‘free market’ casino society we live in hardly makes for an environment in which everyday working people can exercise far-sighted, rational decisions and ‘freedom of choice’. More like the freedom to feel worried, confused and hopeless.
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