Niall Cooper: Restoring faith in welfare
We all rely on the welfare safety net being there for us if we hit hard times. A functioning safety net, not food handouts, is the true long-term solution to food poverty and hunger. The election of a new government committed to making a further £12bn of spending cuts to the welfare budget does not augur well for the future of the welfare state – or the millions who rely on it for their livelihoods. Whilst recognising that benefits are never on their own going to solve poverty (and almost certainly aren’t going to be increased in the current political or economic climate), it is surely not unreasonable to expect the benefits system to prevent people from quite literally going hungry.
Yet, sadly, for far too many, the experience is otherwise. Take Andrew, who ended up at West Cheshire Foodbank: “I’ve just signed on at the jobcentre and am waiting for my appointment. But they have left me for over two weeks with no money or support. They have taken away the phones in the jobcentre as well, which makes it very difficult to contact them when I have no family or anyone. They have cut people off with basic service. If it wasn̕t for foodbanks I would have no food, and then I would have gone out to steal food if I had to.”
For those who find themselves unemployed or unable to work – whether through sickness, disability, redundancy, caring responsibilities or insecure work, the social safety net provides an essential guarantee of a minimum income, enabling people to live free from fear of destitution or the stigma of poverty. Church Action on Poverty’s latest report, “Time to Restore the Safety Net”, documents the increasing number of holes in the welfare safety net, each of which is leading to thousands – in some cases hundreds of thousands – of people being left without income for days, weeks or even months at a time…
This is an extract from the June 2015 edition of Reform.