During recent visits to food banks in Dorset, I shared my own food parcel story from 1977, when my dad was on the Firefighters Strike.
I assumed our food came from a food bank, so I was shocked to discover that Trussell Trust only opened the first facility in Salisbury in the year 2000. Our parcels had actually come from people supporting the firefighters.
In the last five years, the number of people using Trussell Trust Food Banks has increased from 1.2million to 2.1million – and this does not include groups like Faithworks, or those run direct by churches.Talking to staff and volunteers, there was concern not only about the rapid increase in demand but also the need for support over a longer period. The centres were also providing household goods and toiletries, as well as items like coats and warm bags.
It is a really humbling experience visiting a food bank. Turning up with my box of supplies I felt utterly inadequate and while it is heartening people are willing to donate food, money and time, it is outrageous such facilities are needed in the UK in the 2020s.
Poverty is not new, but the Welfare State as imagined and designed by the great Liberal leaders Beveridge and Keynes was supposed to ensure that no one would be short of food or shelter. Thankfully the recent autumn statement reinstated the link with inflation to both pensions and means-tested benefits and it’s crucial this keeps pace with the cost of living. However Conservative policies are leading to increased childhood poverty.
According to House of Commons data 2020, 18% of all children across the South Dorset area live in relative poverty – in some parts of Swanage this figure is 1 in 3. In Wareham alone close to 100 children live in absolute poverty. Perverse rules are leading to families having to reduce work hours to be able to get help with rent.
The two-child policy which affects new Universal Credit claims is also hitting young children hard. This is a cruel policy.
The public sector pay freeze since the first round of austerity, alongside massive rent increases, the energy crisis and food inflation, has led to the sight of nurses, carers and other working people visiting a food bank for the first time. Lib Dems would overhaul free childcare, make it more difficult for parents to seek additional work outside of school hours and bring more parents back into the workforce and extend free school meals provision to all primary school pupils and secondary pupils whose families claim Universal Credit.
We know the country has to tighten its belt. We accept some of the problems have been created by Covid and Putin’s war in Ukraine. But the Conservatives must accept Brexit and their policies have led to communities who have been forgotten. It’s time for change, we need to remove this Conservative Government, give everyone the opportunity to thrive and eradicate poverty.
Lib Dem Prospective Parliamentary Candidate – Mid Dorset & North Poole