By Alex Murtagh
As we find ourselves four years into David Cameron’s premiership with no sign of a coalition collapse it appears that the government’s neglect of the poor is seriously beginning to take its toll. Reports published by the Trussell Trust just last week show that the use of food banks has risen by 163 per cent in the last year alone with no sign of a halt. But how have we allowed this absurd scenario to develop? I fear that, amidst a religious and political battle ground, we’re in danger of losing the real issue.
Once championed by David Cameron as a ‘Success of the Big Society’, food banks are becoming ever more problematic for the Tories, with both the Christian Church and the Labour party focusing heavily on the government’s inability to ensure that the people it governs have enough money in their pockets to feed themselves. Since the Con-Lib government has been in power The Trussell Trust has seen a rise of well over 800,000 people who have been referred to use its services, just fewer than 600,000 of them were in the last year alone. This is a staggering increase which has really put the government under pressure.
And so, the recent reports have left many asking ‘How can one of the world’s largest economies allow for such failure?’ The provision of food is above all else one of the most basic of needs, along with shelter, water and air. Therefore, for a situation to arise where almost one million UK citizens are too poor to even feed themselves is a real humanitarian travesty, and one which needs to be sorted urgently.
However, it appears that the Tory-led coalition is not prioritising the issue. The statistics clearly show that when Gordon Brown left government in 2010 around 60,000 people had used food banks, now that figure stands at over 900,000. To say that it was being ignored would be wrong, because the government has had plenty to say on the issue, but it is definitely way down the list.
One particular Conservative minister who has been more than vocal on his views on the topic is Work and Pensions minister Iain Duncan-Smith. While visiting Cheltenham in late January this year, Mr Duncan-Smith is quoted as saying “it is a positive thing for people to use food banks”. This of course caused an uproar among Charities and alike. The sheer cheek of suggesting food banks were a positive thing was enough to heighten the argument and introduce new sections of society.
Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, used his Easter statement to criticise the Coalition government and its current attitude. Although he was full of negativity towards the parliamentary handling of the situation he was also keen to praise those who had taken it into their own hands and offered to help in food banks. A fundamental Christian value is that of the ethic of reciprocity, the idea that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself, Welby was quick to point this out. And although we are not necessarily living in a time where religion is the main moral directorate, there are aspects we would be foolish not to adhere to.
Fundamentally, the whole debate over food banks comes down to basic human principles. There will be those, like myself, that think that no one should ever be in the position where they cannot afford to feed themselves; There will of course be others, like Iain Duncan-Smith, that believe it is perfectly acceptable for people to be reliant upon such schemes as that run by the Trussell Trust.