THERE are two kinds of banks that characterise the economic troubles this country is facing.
The first kind is the banks that helped precipitate the crisis in the first place with their reckless lending and disastrous investments. The second is the banks that symbolise the consequences of the crisis: the food banks. Such food banks used to be the reserve of the very poorest in society, but now they are a refuge for an increasing number of people who have never relied on charity before. Hundreds of thousands of people would not be able to feed their families without them.
Now we learn this crisis of modern poverty is deepening. The Trussell Trust, a charity that provides food banks across the UK, says it is opening new food banks at the rate of three a week. In 2012/13, it helped 264,000 people – which was more than double the number fed through food banks in 2011/2012. In the last 18 months alone, the Trust has expanded its network of food banks in Scotland from three to 23.
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Yet what is the Coalition Government's answer to this crisis? The most punitive, draconian reforms the welfare system has seen. The food banks prove there is a huge hole in the social security net in Scotland yet the Government's only response is further to weaken the safety net with benefit cuts, on a landscape of rising living costs, that will drive more and more people to rely on food and drink provided by charities.
And it is not only those who are relying on benefits who have turned to the food banks. The Trussell Trust says most of those who turn to them for help are in work, but work that is so low-paid that they cannot afford the basics for their families. This is a consequence of a fatal mix of reforms, the undermining of working tax credit and a downward drive on pay and working hours that has made working poverty a reality in modern Britain.
Despite this, the narrative of the Government continues to be unsympathetic – it is one of scroungers and the undeserving poor; it insists there is a need to squeeze the system further to force the poor off benefits and discourage the so-called welfare lifestyle. Food banks prove the opposite; they demonstrate that there is a genuine need, that some people have no alternative. People do not go to food banks because they are too lazy to work; they go there because they are desperate, because they have no choice, and because the system has failed.