Food banks – a necessary evil of our harsh times

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The boom in Britain’s food banks reflects a number of worrying and complicated trends.

As well as rising unemployment, more people are seeing their hours cut at work.

For the past couple of years, charities have been warning that a shift to a less generous way of uprating benefits in line with inflation, combined with rising food and fuel prices, would make life more difficult for people claiming benefits.

Then there is the start of a harsher benefits regime, as a result of which it seems more claimants are having their payments sanctioned – cut or stopped entirely – if they miss appointments.

At the same time, the state system of a social fund and crisis loans is being wound down, so emergency cash payments from the welfare system for those deemed to be in extreme need are now difficult to procure.

It is a bitter pill to swallow: a so-called First World nation, one which prided itself on its compassionate welfare state, reduced to setting up food banks to help those with empty cupboards. It all smacks of the days of the workhouse.

Yet, places like The Beacon at Havant, as featured on pages eight and nine today, are growing in number across the Portsmouth area.

They are places of last resort. Imagine being so desperate you were forced to seek help to feed your family. Increasing numbers are facing that embarrassment every week.

As Ruth Scott, co-ordinator of the Havant bank, says: ‘This time last year we were giving out five hampers a week. This week we are giving out 10. We see that need is going to keep on increasing.

‘We have seen the changes in benefits recently are already having an impact. People are coming to us with gaps in benefit.’

It’s a sad indictment of the harsh times in which we live, yet for many it’s the difference between going to bed hungry or not.

But we can’t help but wonder that the next time Britain is rocked by riots it won’t be trainers and televisions they’re after, but bread and potatoes.