Recently the Cornerstone Community Centre in Cheltenham featured prominently on the BBC News revealing that the demand for their food pantry had doubled compared to last year. Other food pantries in places like Hester’s Way and Springbank as well as the Cheltenham Food Bank are also struggling to cope as they face soaring demand.
The image of food banks being just for the unemployed or those on benefits is out of date. Working families are now dependant on food support in our current economic crisis. Even some hospitals have established food banks for their nursing and support staff.
Families on pre-payment electric meters are particularly hard hit as they are forced to choose between heating their homes or feeding their family as electricity prices double and the temperature falls. Warm banks have now been added to our communities just as food banks emerged during the austerity of a decade ago.
The Prince and Princess of Wales’ photo opportunity at a food bank last week, however well-intentioned, perpetuates the myth that the redistribution of food surplus will address food poverty.
We now live in a society in which it is accepted that charities and local volunteers provide the safety net for the poorest and most vulnerable families in our communities rather than the government and the welfare state.
Living incomes are desperately needed for those unable to work and for those struggling on an inadequate minimum wage or on a zero hours contract. Surely, we all have a right to a minimum income that allows us to live with dignity rather than face misfortune, unemployment or old age dependant on uncertain charity.
This year is the 80th anniversary of the Beveridge Report which, despite the pressures of wartime, committed the government to the establishment of the Welfare State and the end to the grinding poverty of the 1930s as well as the establishment of the National Health Service. A government which recommitted to these principles and proper funding of the Welfare State is just what is needed now.
Malcolm Bride, Cheltenham Activists Network