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10 June 2014

Below the breadline

Below the breadline

A new report released yesterday by Oxfam, Church Action On Poverty and The Trussell Trust entitled Below the Breadline shows that food banks and food aid charities gave more than 20 million meals last year to people in Britain who could not afford to feed themselves –a 44 per cent increase on the previous 12 months.

The report details how for many low-income households the money they are bringing home is less every month than their essential outgoings. Changes to the welfare system, benefit sanctions, low and stagnant wages, insecure and zero-hours contracts and rising food and energy prices are all contributing to the increasing numbers of meals handed out by food banks and other charities.

The UK also has one of the highest levels of housing costs in Europe, while between 2010 and 2013 energy prices for households rose by 37 per cent.

Millions of families across the UK are living below the breadline and people on low incomes have been forced to buy the cheapest food products and eventually to buy less food altogether. The report says there are people living on one meal a day and having a household budget of six pounds a week. UK food prices have increased by 43.5 per cent over the eight years to July 2013 and food expenditure as a proportion of total household expenditure has continued to rise.

Patricia, who is in East London and is being helped by Tower Hamlets food bank, says: "I have lost a lot of weight. My survival tactic is hot lemon and water and sugar because it stops the hunger pangs. Sometimes I feel so sick. When I get paid I can eat for the first two weeks. I eat chicken and rice, spaghetti Bolognese, tins of sardines, frozen mixed vegetables, Iceland pizza and the like. Then I'm out of money and I go to my neighbour".

Tracy in East London is also being helped by a food bank. "Meat is so expensive these days. When I was growing up we'd only have fish fingers or something once or twice a week, and proper food the rest of the time. Now it's the other way around, we only have proper meat once a month."

The report also shows that Britain is a deeply unequal country. In May 2014, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that the richest one percent of Britons own the same amount of wealth as 54 percent of the population[i]. The same month, the Sunday Times reported that the 1,000 richest people in the country had doubled their wealth in five years.

Oxfam, Church Action On Poverty and the Trussell Trust are calling on the government to urgently draw up an action plan to reverse the rising tide of food poverty and to collect evidence to understand the scale and cause of the increases in food bank usage. The organisations are also calling on all political parties to re-instate the social safety net principle as a core purpose of the welfare system.

Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty, said: "Protecting its people from going hungry is one of the most fundamental duties of government. We want all political parties to draw up proposals to ensure that no one in the UK should go hungry."

Mark Goldring, Oxfam chief executive, said: "At a time when politicians tell us that the economy is recovering, poor people are struggling to cope. The government needs to do more to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable aren't left behind by the economic recovery."

Chris Mould, Trussell Trust chairman, said: "The troubling reality is that there are thousands more people struggling with food poverty who have no access to food aid, or are too ashamed to seek help.   
"We are seeing parents skipping meals to feed their children and significant repercussions of food poverty on physical and mental health. Unless there is determined policy action to ensure that the benefits of national economic recovery reach people on low-incomes, we won't see life get better for the poorest anytime soon." 

The report coincided with a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary called Breadline Kids, broadcast 9 June at 7.30pm and available on 4OD