January 11, 2013 | Health and Well-Being, Economic Opportunity
Under England's pomp, dire circumstances.
By Mabel McKeown
Big Ben, the royal wedding, the thrill of the 2012 Olympics—that’s what most Americans picture when they think about England. But Britain is not exempt from the dark cloud of austerity, unemployment and hunger hanging over Europe. Today 2.5 million Britons are jobless, including almost 1 million people below the age of 25; a shocking 13 million are impoverished —all while the cost of living is soaring.
What’s making these statistics even worse is that many charities in the UK have lost much of the support they used to get from the central government. Before he was elected Prime Minister in 2010, David Cameron pledged to build the “Big Society” in which everyone would come together with a charitable spirit to help their neighbors. The 2013 reality is that due to cuts in welfare spending—reductions in housing and unemployment benefits and child support—rather than giving to charity people are having to rely on charity simply to get by.
One response to this catastrophe: Food banks. They’re a relatively new phenomenon in Britain—but now three new food banks open there every week. The Trussell Trust, Britain’s largest food bank network, has fed more than 210,000 people since April 2012, more than double the number it served in 2011.
Women are having a particularly hard time. A recent survey by NetMums found that one in five UK mothers skips meals to feed her children. "Day in, day out, UK food banks meet mothers who are going without food or are forced to consider stealing to stop their children going to bed hungry," says Chris Mould, chief executive of the Trussell Trust. "Further rises in food and fuel bills could see even more people in crisis."
To stem that problem, food banks in the Trussell Trust network provide a minimum of three days of nutritionally balanced food to people in emergency situations who have been referred by doctors or social workers.
And when times are tough, sometimes offering respect is as important as food. To protect people’s dignity Trussell food banks are designed to be discreet. Provisions are given out in ordinary shopping bags in a welcoming café-style environment. Food bank volunteers also help with the underlying cause of the problem by directing people to other relevant agencies and charities.
What does the year ahead hold for Britain? "The Trussell Trust has seen first-hand the devastating impact of rising food prices and static incomes on people in poverty," said Mould. "The budgets of people on the breadline have been stretched even further so that a small change in financial circumstances can push people into a crisis where they cannot afford food.
"The good news," he adds, "is that at a time of growing difficulty for people on low-incomes, communities across the country are pulling out the stops to start new food banks and people are donating more food to help those in crisis on their doorsteps.”
To learn more about the Trussell Trust, visit www.trusselltrust.org/donate