Ground zero ... London Borough of Lewisham ... a couple of miles from CUK hq ... and what they are doing
practically to assist in this " Field " :
How We Work Towards A Society With No Food Banks.
Food banks are a symptom of, not a solution to, food poverty and inequality. Unfortunately, they are desperately needed until we achieve fundamental reform.
In Lewisham we are about to open donation points at our town hall and council-run libraries to support local food banks.
We know that food banks are a symptom of, not a solution to, food poverty and we need to work towards a society where there is no need for them at all. However, until then, they provide a lifeline for many people who find themselves in crisis.
Austerity is hitting our communities hard. Under the Conservatives and coalition governments, we have seen almost a decade of swingeing cuts to local services, misguided changes to the benefits system and a shocking rise in poverty.
When the Prime Minister proudly declared last year that ‘austerity is over’, this apparently did not apply to local government. By 2020, London councils will have had their government funding reduced by 63% in a decade. At the same time, demand for vital services is rising as more people struggle to make ends meet.
As austerity continues to bite, the voluntary and community sector is increasingly being called on to support vulnerable people. One of the barometers of austerity is the rise in food banks referrals. The UK is supposedly the seventh wealthiest country in the world, yet figures out this week from the Trussell Trust reveal their use is up by 19% in the last year.
The roll out of Universal Credit, the most fundamental change to the benefits system in a generation, is seeing more people being forced to turn to food banks.
According to figures from the Trussell Trust, almost a quarter of food bank referrals in the UK are due to benefit delays. Even the work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, has admitted that Universal Credit is linked to rising food bank use.
Everyone who applies for Universal Credit has to wait at least five weeks for their first payment, which is leaving many without enough money to pay for basics. That is five weeks too long for someone who needs to pay rent, bills or feed their family.
In Lewisham, we are seeing the damaging effects of this as Universal Credit is rolled out across the borough. Lewisham Food Bank is giving out more emergency food parcels to people in crisis than ever.
By 2024, every Lewisham household claiming housing benefit will have migrated to Universal Credit. Unless the five week delay to payments is ended, this has serious implications for the future.
Lewisham Council has a proud history of working closely with its voluntary and community sector to transform the lives of residents. We call it the ‘Lewisham Way’. This week I visited Lewisham food bank to speak with and thank volunteers for the work they do in the community.
I also met people who had been referred to the food bank for a wide range of reasons; from benefit delays to a sudden change in circumstance such as illness. It was heart-breaking to hear how, through no fault of their own, they had been forced into crisis.
Ultimately, we need a fundamental change in Government policy, and a compassionate Labour administration, to address the shocking inequalities in this country.
It is not enough for politicians to tweet a photo of them donating to their local food bank at Christmas, especially when they have voted in favour of cuts and benefit changes. Similarly, supermarkets and large businesses must go beyond donating surplus food or funds and also campaign for change.
Local government has an important role to play too. As a campaigning council, we in Lewisham will continue to urge the Government to reverse its damaging cuts and reform Universal Credit, so that our most vulnerable residents are protected from austerity.
Food banks are a symptom of, not a solution to, food poverty and inequality. Unfortunately, they are desperately needed until we achieve a fundamental reform of Government policy.
Damien Egan is the mayor of Lewisham