I always knew there was poverty in the UK but I wasn’t fully aware of the extent and impact until I started the Team v programme. Team v is a youth social action and leadership programme where young people from all over the country come together to learn about social issues and run three campaigns in their local areas over the course of a year. Our first campaign aimed to raise awareness of food poverty in the UK. If someone is living in food poverty it means they are unable to provide themselves with a minimally acceptable diet.
As the 6th richest country in the world it is almost unimaginable that there are people in our country, even in our neighbourhoods living in food poverty. The wealth of the UK is matched by its inequality. The richest 1% of Britons own the same amount as 54% of the population. There are 13 million people in the UK who live below the poverty line and more than half a million children in the UK now live in families who are unable to provide a minimally acceptable diet. Even more shocking is that 66% of children in poverty are in families where at least one parent is employed. The Independent recently reported on a study that showed healthy food costs three times as much as unhealthy foods. It is unacceptable that in our country healthy food has become a luxury rather than a choice.
Hearing the stories of food bank clients such as a young pregnant woman who had escaped from domestic violence and was now living in a hostel made me think of the ‘benefit scrounger’ headlines and how far from the truth these perceptions are. In 2014-15 the Trussell Trust provided three days of emergency food for 1,084,604 people in crisis. Food poverty could affect anyone. Food bank clients are not “scrounging off the tax payer”. Food banks are run independently and rely on donations from individuals and local businesses.
So, if food banks are independent from the state then why is this election important? – Food poverty is a shocking example of the negative impact of certain policies on people within our society. A shocking 65.77% of food bank clients in 2014-15 were referred due to delayed benefits, benefit sanctions and low wages. These issues are things the government could address and we should be holding them to account. Currently the most vulnerable in our society are being let down and this cannot go on. If you care about food poverty – working people not having enough money to feed themselves – and want benefit and welfare reform, then you can use your vote to demonstrate this. If our society is judged by how we treat our weakest members then we are not doing too well, as there are working parents in 21st century Britain skipping meals in order to feed their children.
The current Team v campaign is called #SwingTheVote and aims to increase political understanding and engagement amongst 18-25 year olds.
By Pauline Meyer, part of the action/2015 Youth Panel network.
For more information on the action/2015 campaign and youth click here. The action/2015 Youth Panel is co-facilitated by British Youth Council, BOND, Islamic Relief, Progressio and Restless Development and Y Care International.