Thousands and thousands of destitute Britons depend on charity handouts, but ministers really feel no disgrace | Frances Ryan
ON Ten years ago the emergence of mass billboards in the UK could really be described as shocking. The image of families standing in line for a box full of pasta and beans in their local church has not just normalized, but has spread.
Not only does this mean that the number of boards has increased in recent years – there are now more than 1,300 such agencies on the Trussell Trust network, compared to fewer than 100 in 2010, as well as hundreds of other independent agencies – but also that these have opened the door to other types of fundraising centers, each set up by community groups and charities in response to growing demand.
With tight social security, low wages and high rents in distress for 2.4 million people, everything has popped up across the country, from clothes benches to hygiene product dispensaries. If your zero-hour contract isn’t paying off, get your shampoo from a donation bin instead of boots. If you have cancer and have been turned down for disability benefits, fruits and vegetables don’t come from Tesco, but from your local food bank. Today Britain has an entire ecosystem of charities to meet our basic needs: donated dignity that fills the place where the state once stood.
The pandemic, all too predictably, made things worse. According to the Covid-19 Support Fund, almost one in eight adults in the UK has received support from a charity since the coronavirus crisis began in March 2020. more than half of them had never expected to need such help before. Food aid demand has reached an unprecedented high as the Trussell Trust distributed 2.5 million packages in the first year of the pandemic. In the meantime, the Hygiene Bank – a network that provides hygiene items for people who cannot afford them – has distributed over 400 tons of products in the past 12 months, 155% more than last year.
While the UK’s richest 10 percent increased their wealth by an average of £ 50,000 during the pandemic, the poorest struggled to purchase deodorant. Hygiene Bank says people have used dish soap to wash clothes for the past 12 months due to lack of money or resources; brushed his teeth without toothpaste; and stayed home because they had no period products. Some even removed the contents of a diaper so that it could be reused. The modern term for this is “poor hygiene”, but it should actually only be called obscene.
As The need has increased in recent years, as have the methods we have found to describe it. Energy poverty. Food poverty. Period poverty. Such language falsely suggests that the problem is limited to one area, as if poverty does not arise from systematic economic inequality, but from too expensive soap. The truth is that millions of people just don’t have enough money to live on.
The increasing use of charities to address this not only normalizes the notion that large numbers of people are destitute in one of the richest economies on earth, but also supports the notion that the government bears no responsibility for it. It’s a Victorian-style policy designed for the 21st. Forget private business contracts, this is the new outsourcing – where ministers fail on struggling families and then hand them over to the local board.
Not only is this extremely inefficient – piecemeal charity can never recreate a social safety net – it’s also dehumanizing. Poverty has long brought shame to those who endure it, and few things could feel more shameful than being forced to ask for dispensed soap in order to be clean.
The end of government coronavirus support in September will only bring this more into focus. The end of the holiday, plus the £ 20 increase in the universal loan on top of the cuts in funding to help tenants at risk of homelessness, will create a perfect storm with large swathes of the population at risk of becoming insecure. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that simply cutting the universal credit by £ 20 a week leaves unemployed families with children with barely half the income required to achieve a socially acceptable standard of living, while those with jobs who have Dependent on benefits as a supplement to poverty wages, things will hardly be better.
The conservative response to these challenges is now so well known that it borders on a cliché. Just look at Tory MP. on Andrew Rosindell, who defended the benefit cut on the grounds that there are some people “who’d like to get the extra £ 20” but “maybe” don’t really need them. And yet sooner or later there will have to be an impetus to do better, not least because the middle class is now lining up at the dining tables.
If Covid has shed light on the evils of 10 years of Tory rule, it has also highlighted that only comprehensive reforms will change that. The gap between reality and Boris Johnson’s “leveling rhetoric” could hardly be greater. Only concrete measures can lead us on a different path: to housing, disability, job insecurity and the gaping holes in our welfare state. A government that doesn’t even let millions of the population eat or wash has failed by definition. Poverty is indeed a sign of shame – but only on the shoulders of ministers.
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