Food insecurity and Coronavirus: two problems that won’t go away

Food insecurity and hunger have often been discussed singularly within the context of the ‘developing’ world. The first images that will flash across our collective minds are of emaciated African children, covered in flies and on cracked dry ground. We have done a very good job of distancing the images of poverty to ‘over there’, relegating it to a backwards world of countries that simply cannot get it right.

The purpose of this is twofold: firstly to reinforce (neo)colonial images of so-called ‘developing’ countries that seek to present a one dimensional image that only depicts them as impoverished, war-torn and struggling and therefore in need of aid. And secondly it successfully conceals the very real poverty that exists in the supposedly ‘developed’ world. 

However after a decade of Tory austerity, it has become increasingly difficult to escape the glaring realities of poverty, food insecurity and hunger in the UK. Channel 4’s sobering episode of Dispatches titled “Growing Up Poor: Britain’s Breadline Kids” that came out weeks before last year’s general election, follows the life of a number of children and their families who have fallen below the poverty line.

A young pale soft spoken boy called Cameron shocked the entire country with his frank yet melancholic statement to the camera: “we try not to eat a lot in one day, even though most of us are really hungry, we have to be careful with our food”. The one common thread with every family in this episode was their reliance on near expiry date food from food banks and charity funded food clubs. 

The number of people receiving three days worth of emergency food by Trussell Trust foodbanks in 2008/2009 was at 25,899 recorded food bank users, this number has hit 1,583,668 in 2019. This however is a logical progression after a decade of severe cuts to the welfare system and social care, with cuts affecting the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society pushing them, through sudden loss of income, delays in benefits payment, precarious low paid employment and unexpected costs like a funeral or a divorce.

The State has failed in its commitment to provide provisions for people to ensure that they have the most basic necessities to survive. Necessities like food, shelter and heat etc, are the minimum needed to pursue happiness. The liberty to be free and happy in this country that many enjoy, is denied to people because they can only focus on surviving. And simply have no time, energy, or resources for living.

The OECD has suggested that the UK is going to be among the worst economically affected by covid 19. According to the New Statesman 612,000 people dropped off company payrolls from March-May 2020, 9 million have been furloughed, 2.8 million people are claiming work related benefits and weekly hours worked have dropped to a record low. According to the ONS there has been, approximately, a 60% decrease in the number of job vacancies which, if it doesn’t pick up, indicates the very distressing future of employment in the UK. 

This bleak economic future, paired with the failings of universal credit, does not fuel me with optimism. And in a few months, summer will give way to autumn and winter, and this will only exacerbate the problems that we are seeing now. And whilst we certainly need to donate to local food banks as and when we can, we also need to pressure governments into doing more to protect vulnerable people.

We are in exceptional times, there are discussions happening now within mainstream politics that a few years ago were completely inconceivable, and so it is time that we aim higher and push for the things that we were told for so long were simply not feasible. Universal basic income being the first thing that comes to mind, but this should work alongside transformations, or overhauls, of our punitive immigration system and draconian laws that punish the poor. 

Here are some food banks in Manchester that you can donate to:

Manchester Central Food Bank

Burnage Food Bank

Salford Food Bank

By Nimo Omer

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