The Independent Food Aid Network has reported an 89% increase in food bank use since the start of lockdown. The Food Standards Agency have published a report which reveals that between 2.7 million and 3.7 million adults were forced to visit food banks between April and May of this year. And between 6.3 million and 7.7 million adults have missed meals due to financial hardship.
That millions of people in this country are unable to meet the most basic of human needs to feed themselves and their families was a reality before lockdown. However, public recognition of food poverty has grown following recent successful campaigns. These include Marcus Rashford’s call to retain the £15 a week food-voucher scheme for Britain's poorest children, prompting yet another government's U-turn due under public pressure.
The unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed the vast inequalities in our society. The infrastructure of state support has been hollowed out. And services have been outsourced. All of this has produced systemic vulnerability. Millions of people have been left wildly unprotected, without secure jobs, housing, and now basic access to food itself.
One of the consequences of the pandemic is a brutal intensification of nearly ten years of austerity. Already, before the outbreak, we knew that these policies are responsible for 120,000 excess deaths, a rise in child poverty, vast health inequalities, and a reduction of life expectancy.
Ugly face of capitalism
But is this situation a surprise to anyone? The embedding of a gig economy; benefit sanctions; the shambolic implementation of universal credit; and punitive policies such as the bedroom tax: all these display a clear correlation with the dramatic rise of food bank use in the UK.
The Trussell Trust (the largest food bank network in the country) handed out 1.2 million food packs in 2016-17, compared to around 41,000 in 2009-10. It is indisputable that austerity measures are devastating communities and cutting lives short.
We have seen a chaotic and piecemeal response that continues to place the interest of shareholders and the rentier class above that of working class people, many of whom risk their lives every day on the front-line.
Cleaners, carers, nurses, shop workers, delivery drivers, and refuse collectors are far more important than the billionaires who profit from human misery. And yet, capitalism cannot even feed the very human beings who are society’s lifeblood.
Food bank use is the obscene face of contemporary capitalism. We need to nationalise the major supermarkets and consumer-goods monopolies, in order to plan the production and distribution of food in the interests of society. And we need socialist planning to provide what the capitalist market cannot: decent jobs, homes, and public services for all.
There has never been a more important time to fight to put people ahead of profit.