A panel event based on Kayleigh Garthwaite’s book ‘Hunger Pains: Life inside foodbank Britain’ took place in parliament on Wednesday 29 June.
Academics, MPs, media and the public came together with a panel of experts to discuss the varied and complex issue of foodbanks and what their future should be.
Emma introduced the event which was chaired by Guardian journalist, Patrick Butler. The panel included; Jack Monroe, campaigner, columnist and author; Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty; Peter Kelly, Director of Poverty Alliance; Anne Danks, Northern Manager, Trussell Trust; Baroness Ruth Lister of Burtersett and Kayleigh Gathwaite, Durham University.
Latest Trussell Trust figures show a 2% increase in foodbank use on the previous year with 1,109,309 three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis via their network of 424 foodbanks in 2015/16.
Hunger Pains provides a much needed voice for foodbank users and volunteers in the UK, and a powerful insight into the realities of foodbank use from the inside.
Kayleigh Garthwaite said:
“During my time volunteering at the foodbank I realised that the people and the voices behind the statistics weren’t being heard. In the book, I wanted to uncover the reality of life for people who use foodbanks.”
“Foodbank use is a growing concern in South Shields and throughout the country. Food banks should not exist in a country as wealthy as ours yet they are on the increase and becoming a permanent fixture in society. Despite the excellent work carried out for the last few years by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty which I was part of – the Conservative Government has done nothing to tackle food poverty and instead demonise and attempt to shame the people desperate enough to have to go in search of food – a basic human right.
Hunger Pains makes a vital contribution to the debate on food poverty because it debunks the myth that foodbank use is in some way, a lifestyle choice. We hear the voices of the people who use foodbanks so they can tell us in their own words, the circumstances that led to them to use a foodbank and we learn how the Tory welfare reforms have in many ways created and certainly exacerbated the problem.
We can use Hunger Pains as a starting point for changing the way people think about foodbanks and the people who use them. Uncovering the real reasons people turn to foodbanks is the first step in addressing this complex issue”.
You can read Emma’s introductory address below:
Thank you all for coming to today’s event to discuss the findings of Kayleigh Garthwaite’s fantastic book which is quite unique amongst the debates and written words about poverty because it gives a voice to those who are going hungry from their own perspective.
Right now, politics is in meltdown, the next few years are going to be dominated by the fall-out from the EU Referendum, the two main political parties including my own are in disarray and I am heartbroken that the people who need us, the people in this book who need politicians more than ever to speak up for them and fight for a better Britain are going to be left behind.
Since coming to Parliament, I have campaigned hard to try and eradicate the scandal of poverty and I will continue to do so.
For over two years, I have been part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty which published its report, ‘A strategy for zero hunger in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in December 2014.
The report was well-received but there was not enough action and there is clear evidence that the problem is far from solved. Just yesterday, official data released from the Department for Work and Pensions showed that the number of children living in poverty in the UK has jumped by two hundred thousand in a year.
The number of people classed as living in “relative poverty” after housing costs increased to 13.5 million in 2014-15 from 13.2 million a year earlier.
Two-thirds of children in poverty are living in households where at least one adult is in work.
We must not allow the EU negotiations to get in the way of action on UK poverty. The government promised to ‘make work pay’ but this is not happening for the 66% of children in poverty who are in working families.
On the contrary, foodbanks are increasing and show no sign of disappearing. In fact, Kayleigh argues, they are becoming an accepted, permanent part of society. We cannot let this happen.
The referendum result was no surprise to me. For months, I walked the streets of South Shields and the message was loud and clear. Most I spoke to, wanted out – they were sick of being ignored, sick of looking at their boarded up high-streets, sick of hearing about the so-called northern Powerhouse whilst the reality was, they were struggling. Really struggling to cope with the Tory austerity plan which has impacted the North East and other parts of the North more than anywhere in the country.
Thatcherism devastated communities throughout industrial England that have never recovered. The pain and hopelessness felt by the most vulnerable and disenfranchised in our communities explains to some extent why many used their vote to protest against the ‘machine’ – two fingers up to the politicians who they think “don’t care about us”.
Tory austerity measures and their savage welfare reforms have tipped tens of thousands into real poverty – where families and children can’t afford to eat – the most basic human necessity. Poverty like this should not be seen in a country as wealthy as ours.
And this is why Kayleigh’s book is so important – in fact prescient. Because if we can offer practical solutions to the hundreds of thousands of people desperate enough to have to ask for food from a food bank we can start to heal the deep social divides that have contributed to the disenfranchisement, the anger and the anxiety that has just split our country in two.
Kayleigh spent two years as a researcher and a Trussell Trust foodbank volunteer. We will hear more about the findings of the book in a few minutes but the one thing that struck me, because it’s the thing too often ignored by politicians across the political spectrum – is that Kayleigh provides a platform for the voices and stories of the people using the foodbanks – in their own words.
Her book shows, as the APPG also found, that people use foodbanks for a number of reasons, ranging from immediate crisis in the forms of benefits sanctions or delays, longer term insecurity including fuel poverty, debt and low-paid work and tipping points such as bereavement and funeral costs or job loss.
We must form policy after listening, really listening to the individuals whose lives demonstrate they have been let down by Government – so badly that they can’t afford to feed themselves.
Yes the issues are complex – and yes there is no silver bullet – but the Conservative Government cannot ignore the fact that their policies on welfare reforms and austerity measures have hit the most vulnerable in society more than anyone else.
It is a national scandal that this book had to be written at all. When people go searching for food at a foodbank, because it is the only way to feed themselves or their family, those people doesn’t have a choice. If they don’t have a choice on something as basic as feeding themselves, what else do they have no choice over? And what of the millions in this country who may not be desperate enough to have to visit a foodbank but see and feel the poverty all around them, and feel intensely the struggle they are having to make ends meet?
Is it just possible, that when these people did get a choice in this referendum – they used their choice to show their anger against the deep division in our country between the have, and the have nots?
It is now incumbent on whoever the next Prime Minister is to answer that question honestly and to act upon the findings of the APPG on hunger which – I am angry they didn’t do two years ago – to ensure that no one who lives in Britain should live in food poverty. I thank Kayleigh for her great contribution to this debate and look forward to hearing all of your thoughts.