Mark Bothwell. Still in pain and waiting for the outcome of his employment and support allowance application.
Mark Bothwell. Still in pain and waiting for the outcome of his employment and support allowance application.

A study presented earlier this week to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty says the rise in food banks and charity food is a clear sign of the inadequate nature of social security provision and the way it is delivered. As reported in the Guardian, the report by Sheffield University researcher Hannah Lambie-Mumford warns of the danger of charity food becoming a fundamental part of, or even replacement for, formerly state-funded welfare.

As shown by Eoin Clarke here, by January this year the number of food banks in the UK had grown to more than 1,080. Give that number a bit more consideration. There are more food banks now in the UK than there are branches of Sainsbury’s. The experience of Mark Bothwell (pictured above), here at the London food bank, serves to illustrate the effect of our inadequate welfare system on real lives. Individuals with multiple, deep-set problems are being let down, and food banks can do nothing more for them than provide short-term food. Crisis packs of long life food are not, and can’t be, a solution for people who are being left month upon month with inadequate, delayed, or downright non-existent welfare payments.

Mark, who injured his right shoulder back in October, is on jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), but is still waiting to hear the outcome of his application for employment and support allowance (ESA). He tells me: ‘They say it will take a while’. He won’t be able to work for the foreseeable future, while he waits for his shoulder to heal. In the meantime, he’s trying to pay off some old debts ( a doorstep loan and a payment to Brighthouse) at the usual extortionate rates, in addition to the repayments on a crisis loan. That doesn’t leave any sensible amount of money left for food out of the current JSA rate of between £125 and £145 a fortnight (depending on whether the crisis loan repayment amount has been deducted).

He’s in a terrible way – in constant pain every day. His GP has put him back on the drug tramadol, and he says that some days ‘it literally feels like my flesh is on fire’. He’s struggling to keep his spirits up: ‘If I allowed myself to feel all the bad feelings I wouldn’t be able to function. There are people who are worse off.’ There are days when he goes without food, but he adds: ‘I heard a family in Afganistan talk on the news. The man had lost his younger son in a bombing, and the elder son was injured. A couple of days without food seems like nothing. My situation pales to nothing in comparison.’

Earlier in the year, Benefit Tales highlighted that the European Committee of Social Rights declared in a report that minimum levels of benefits – short-term and long-term incapacity benefit, state pension and jobseeker’s allowance – in Great Britain were ‘manifestly inadequate’.

The Coalition government should be deeply shamed by these comments from international observers. Maybe here at home we’ve got so used to the inequities that the burden on individuals and families isn’t registering any more. John Glen, parliamentary aide to Eric Pickles, said recently that partisan politics needs to be taken out of the food bank debate. He also said he hoped the all-party parliamentary inquiry would examine the underlying causes of the use of food banks. This is the same man who suggested in 2011 that everyone in work should have enough money for food.

Would he like food banks to quietly yet relentlessly continue transforming into an industrially-scaled charitably-funded rescuer of failing state provision? It’s easier to hand out food bank vouchers that you’re not paying for than to make sure your citizens get decent and humane levels of social security, paid on time.

While this shameful situation gets worse by the week it seems Mr Glen would prefer us not to get political about it.

11 thoughts on “Mark: State welfare is failing our citizens and food banks aren’t the answer

  1. Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    Londonfoodbank give another example of a victim of the government welfare cuts, who is now forced to rely on the foodbank. I fear, however, that the government is deliberately introducing foodbanks as a part of the welfare state by stealth. It matches the situation in America, where in some states the unemployed are only given food and milk stamps. This is deliberate. It’s to make the experience of state benefit so unpleasant and humiliating that people will not want to go on it. The Tories and Tory Democrats are copying the worst features of American capitalism and importing them into Britain. As for John Glen, Eric Pickles’ parliamentary aide stating that he would like party politics taken out of the food bank debate, this indicates that he knows how iniquitous this policy is, and fears that his party will be punished for it at the next election. Let’s hope he’s right, and they are.

  2. Food Banks in England are not enough.

    Throughout Europe and under EU funding, canteens give free cooked meals and hot drinks to mostly the working poor and low income pensioners,
    who in UK are 97 per cent of the benefits bill.

    America has daily food kitchens and has had articles on starvation in England caused by benefit cuts.

    Food Banks began under Labour who started welfare reform, brought in Atos and invented the Bedroom Tax.

    Ed Balls, Shadow Labour Chancellor, confirmed Labour government would just continue Tory spending plans and be even harder on welfare reform than even the Tories.

    Ed Balls and 46 other Labour MPs failed to vote against the Bedroom Tax under Coalition government, which was lost by just 26 votes. Pensioners are liable for Bedroom Tax if one partner below the raised retirement age.

    The raised retirement age, especially for women has meant food and fuel poverty amongst the half of women 60-66 who are within the working poor, on wages flat-lined to 2002 levels, and the majority reason for women 60-66 not to be in work of being disabled / chronic sick and those benefits being lost or never gained.

    See if you lose most or all of your state pension altogether:

    1. Thanks for your detailed comments. I do think women, young and old, are being hit particularly hard by the changes to state pension and benefits. Will try to look at this a bit more closely. The Trussell Trust are issuing some new stats on food bank users this week. Will see if they are broken down by gender.

  3. Mark, never think of those who are worse of than yourself. As a disabled person I have had to tell myself that it’s about me, not anyone else. You have to, or you’d go mad. This is YOUR claim, YOUR disability for now, and that is what should concern you more than anything. It’s not being unkind or hurtful, it’s being logical.
    I truly hope you get your ESA and that your shoulder heals and doesn’t leave any problems.

    1. Thanks for the reblog. I feel that Mark’s long wait for ESA is wrecking his self confidence. These long delays in dealing with social security applications are so demeaning and undermining. In the few months I’ve known him, I’ve noticed that even his natural sense of his own worth to society is being eroded by the way he’s being treated by the system. It’s good that he’s getting counselling for depression and physical pain. But what’s crucial is that he starts to get enough money to eat. Counselling is not much good on an empty stomach.

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