Writing in The Guardian today (see below) I argue that the rowback of the state’s role in this age of austerity has had some sinister consequences. One of the noticeable results of the reduction in government’s role has been the opening up of new marketplaces in misery.
One of these new marketplaces is ‘food poverty’. I place this term in inverted commas because the root cause of ‘food poverty’ is – of course – plain old fashioned poverty.
Benefits changes and sanctions brought in under successive Tory-led governments have aggravated poverty and pushed up demand for food banks. Why? Because under the new benefits rules many people (not just scroungers, but hard-working people suddenly made redundant) are often left marooned for a period of around six weeks while their claims are scrutinised and reassessed and during which they have no income whatsoever.
But it’s not just a question of the big bad Tories impoverishing the poor old plebs. In the middle you have the emergence of the ‘food poverty’ marketeers. Those who see a gap in state provision as signifying a gap in the market.
The fact is that despite the occasional dutiful noise about how austerity is terrible, many of the large private businesses and charitable growth organisations who claim to be addressing ‘food poverty’ have everything to gain from the state continuing to do nothing to help ensure its citizens are well fed. For if the state pulled its finger out and decided to guarantee the right to food for all, most wouldn’t look so good and some would be out of a job altogether.
Thus ‘food poverty’, one of the newly formed marketplaces in misery, trundles on. Small and independent charities and churches perform their excellent role in feeding the poor, sure, but the market – for market it has become – is actually dominated by bigger concerns who do very well, thank you.
An alternative would be genuine activists coming together to press the state to do more. But in the process, vested interests – some of them ostensibly pure charities – will have to come around to the idea that a proper solution to food poverty would be to put themselves out of business.
Charity is great. But Sympathy is not justice. Let’s have a bit more of the latter.