It is the state that is shirking its duties, not the parents

Food & livelihoods, Food security, Inequality, Poverty in the UK

Jack Monroe began using food banks to feed herself and her son last year after losing her job. She found herself grappling with a food budget, after housing costs and bills, of only ten pounds a week. Her efforts to keep afloat and keep her family healthy are chronicled online in her popular blog A Girl Called Jack. She is now writing a recipe book to be published by Penguin next year and is an activist on the drivers of poverty in the UK.

As half a million people are reportedly reliant on the distribution of emergency food from food banks, the Government seems adamant to blame feckless parenting and a ‘scrounger mentality’ for the rise of food poverty in Britain.

First, Lord Freud commented in the House of Lords that there was no link between the recent welfare cuts and the rise in demand for food banks. In a gross slur against the desperate families referred to food banks for help, he claimed that people were turning up just for the free food, which simply isn’t true. Surveys show that one in five people suffering from food insecurity would not consider turning to a food bank for help, as
they find the stigma attached to asking for food humiliating. 

Surveys show that one in five people suffering from food insecurity would not consider turning to a food bank for help.

In today’s news, Michael Gove blames child poverty on reckless, irresponsible parenting and, in doing so, distracts from and denies the reality that most people using food banks are doing so as a result of benefit delays, sanctions, low income and unemployment. Other factors such as illness and domestic abuse certainly play a part, but these are the key causes.

Many parents tell of going hungry themselves in order to feed their children, as the biting austerity measures wound family incomes deeper and deeper. It’s hardly the picture of feckless parenting that the Education Secretary paints.

I was a food bank user myself for six months, while unemployed, seeking work and surviving on just £10 a week for food for myself and my son.

He did not go hungry during that period – but I did.

In the US, food banks are an integrated part of the welfare provision, a permanent fixture. If food banks are here to stay, the responsibility for feeding the poor and vulnerable will have shifted from the shoulders of the Government, to the shoulders of charities and not for profit sector.

It is the state, not the casualties of the shrinking welfare state that are shirking their duties and sending its children to school, to work, and to bed hungry.

Although it is admirable that these organisations are coming together to meet a real and desperate need, they should be seen as a sticking plaster, not a license for the Government to shirk its civic duties towards its citizens.

In terms of feckless parenting, it is the state, not the casualties of the shrinking welfare state that are shirking their duties and sending its children to school, to work, and to bed hungry. 

Gove, Freud et al need to look child poverty and hunger in the face, and commit to tackling the underpinning root causes, instead of casting around to see who else can be blamed. Increasing social housing, paying housing benefit monthly instead of four weekly to assist with cash flow problems, paying benefits quickly upon application and a commitment to a living wage would all be steps towards tackling poverty, rather than tossing the blame around. 

We need to stop just pulling people out of the river. It’s time to go upstream, and find out why they’re falling in.

More on this

Download our recent reports on poverty in the UK: Our Economy and Walking the Breadline.

Find out more about Oxfam’s work on poverty in the UK.

Read more UK poverty blog posts.

Author: Jack Monroe
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.