By Julian Shaw, King’s College London
Across the less-affluent towns of the UK it is a familiar experience to walk through once thriving high streets and now see boarded up shops, pubs, and social clubs. Budget stores seem to be the only ones surviving now. Budget stores and food banks actually.
In their recent article for Area, Hannah Lambie-Mumford and Mark Green (2015) explore the correlation between welfare cuts and the increase in food bank reliance of children from the most deprived parts of the country. An uncomfortable reality for the Austerity discourse of the current neoliberal Conservative government.
Some commentators regard Food Banks as the “epitome of the Big Society”; a solution to community food needs in times of crisis (Conservative Home, 2012). Yet Lambie-Mumford and Green (2015) reveal that these ‘solutions’ to community hardship have failed to maintain previous standards of living; instead less and less is being consumed by many of the poorest families (especially of expensive healthy items like fruit and veg). Lambie-Mumford and Green (2015) assert with conviction that viewing Food Banks as solutions to the problems of communal hardship is misguided; instead they assert that “food banks work to relieve symptoms of food insecurity; they do not…address the root causes” (ibid.: 5).
As we approach the implementation of the Conservative Government’s July Budget 2015, another wave of £12 billion welfare cuts are planned. The Independent recently reported that within this budget, plans to cut £4.5 billion from the working tax credits bill (despite opposition from within the Conservative party) are likely to leave “3.2 million families worse off by an average of £1,300 a year when they come into effect next April” (Independent, 2015); that this is around £25 a week less.
A brief glance at the ONS data for household expenditure in 2014 (ONS, 2014) and an alarming detail stands out; average expenditure on ‘Food and non-alcoholic drinks’ was £54.80 a week in 2014. If similar trends to the Save the Children survey (2012) continue, how much more can weekly food budgets be cut by already desperate families? And how much more can food banks provide? Will those donating food continue with their kind offerings when it becomes the ‘norm’?
The ironic sting in the tail, is that the carrot offered by the July Budget 2015 – the new £7.20 per hour minimum wage, re-labelled the ‘National Living Wage’ (NLW) – may mean that more businesses in poor towns will be forced to close or downsize. In a recent survey of convenience stores in the UK it was asserted that 6% of businesses will close, while 58% of businesses will reduce staff numbers, if the NLW is introduced (ACS, 2015). In addition, the founder of JD Wetherspoon Pubs, Tim Martin declared last month that the NLW risks further pub closures as well, “especially in the less-affluent areas” (The Guardian, 2015). When the dereliction of the town centre reaches its zenith, are we going to see a return of the high street bank to the town centres? But this time they will be food banks.
ACS (2015) “Living Wage Introduction Will Lead to Job Losses, Delayed Investment and Business Closures“ Online Article. (Accessed online on 19th October 2015)
Independent (2015) “George Osborne to remain stubborn on tax credits despite Tory backlash: ‘We are not going to move on it… no caveats‘” Article online. (Accessed on 19th October 2015)
Lambie-Mumford, H., and Green, M.A., (2015) Austerity, welfare reform and the rising use of food banks by children in England and Wales, Area, doi: 10.1111/area.12233
ONS (2014) Family Spending 2014 Data. (Accessed on 19th October 2015)
Save the Children (2012) Child poverty in 2012: it shouldn’t happen here, Save the Children, Manchester
The Guardian (2015) “Wetherspoon boss attacks minimum wage plan as profits slump“ Article online. (Accessed online on 19th October 2015)