Food Bank Britain
Rachel Morris considers the malaise of modern Britain as the Conservatives initiate Austerity 2.0
“The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam today”, said the Mad Hatter. Perhaps he wrote this year’s Queen’s Speech, as delivered by golden calf Prince Charles, and subsequent tweets by Her Majesty’s Government.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak suggested that the Government could help you with the cost of living crisis, if you start a small enterprise first. A jam stall, perhaps.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng shared his passion for nuclear power plants – not exactly a short-term fix – in the week when it was revealed that we’re set to receive glowing veg from Fukushima.
Most ministers repeated the bit from their propaganda manual about being laser-focused on “the people’s priorities”. Nothing like a bit of alliteration to drown out those noises emanating from your stomach.
While French people got a state-delivered energy price cap limiting increases to 4%, our 54% rises can surely only be deliberate.
There’s no question that we’ve embarked upon Austerity 2.0. But the ‘A’ word can’t be said out loud, because according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, Austerity 1.0 caused 130,000 preventable deaths.
That’s one in every 517 people. COVID has now killed one in 347, if you divide the 2020 Census population by deaths with COVID on the certificate (193,713 at 11 May).
Austerity has therefore been rebranded. The Conservatives have driven the more comfortable classes into needing food banks, so has started calling them ‘pantries’. This was exactly the approach of Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt who on 22 April declared a partnership with Hive Portsmouth, setting up ‘food pantries’ in her constituency to save households an “average £800 a year in food bills”.
The accompanying video makes the food bank look like Waitrose, with more gorgeous veg and eggs than I’ve seen anywhere in France. Mordaunt appeals for generous individuals to run them, off the Government pay-roll.
In an article for the Daily Express earlier this week, Mordaunt said that anti-Brexit “doomsters want Britain to fail”. If she doesn’t understand that Britain is already failing, perhaps the minister should spend an afternoon in the food ‘pantry’, when it’s open for business.
According to Mordaunt, Remainers must instead become Tinkerbells: they must close their eyes tight and believe in Brexit hard enough, so food banks – sorry, ‘pantries’ – will vanish. For most people, however, closing their eyes just makes the hunger more apparent.
Closing his eyes is something well-known to Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, who spends his days lounging on the green benches of the House of Commons.
Ultimately, the people in charge see widespread hunger and poverty as a game: an exercise imagined in public relations school – or perhaps a question on the Eton entrance exam – designed to prove how they can wriggle out of a tight spot.
And the latest frontier of this PR campaign has focused on Labour Leader Keir Starmer having a beer and a curry during a work event. The nation’s attention has been diverted away from yet more Downing Street party fines, a catastrophic Conservative local election performance, and the High Court ruling that the Government consigned elderly people to death during the early stages of the pandemic.
It is also deeply ironic that this ‘scandal’ focuses on food, when 4.7 million adults are currently suffering from food insecurity.
Indeed, there are fewer McDonald’s (1,358) in the UK than food ‘pantries’ (more than 2,200). But, according to Conservative MP for Ashfield, Lee Anderson, it’s poor people who are to blame for their growling bellies.
Meanwhile, Prince Charles can still utter the phrase “levelling up” in Parliament while sitting in front of a gold-encrusted wall on a gold-encrusted throne wearing gold-and-medal-encrusted clothing – saying that regional rebalancing will be achieved by “ensuring everyone can continue to benefit from al fresco dining”.
There’s a reason why the Government has run out of ideas about how to fix the country. Primarily, because fixing the problems would involve a recognition that they created the problems in the first place and – secondly – because the Conservative Party takes its instructions from its paymasters in the private sector.
Everywhere you look, the Government is privatising – or threatening to privatise – whatever hasn’t already been sold-off. Passports, driving licenses, Channel 4, alongside our crap-filled waterways. But this asset-stripping goes much further. The state’s role itself has been privatised.
If you want to challenge the lawfulness of a Government action, you must crowdfund it yourself. If you want veterans to have something to sleep on, you must support a charity like Forgotten Veterans UK, whose ambassador is – Penny Mordaunt.
There will come a time when too few can afford to support privately-funded efforts by the third sector, with time or money, and some of these needs simply won’t be met at all. What happens when there are more GoFundMe pages than people who can donate to them? When there are more charities than the charitable?
Up to 14.5 million people lived in poverty before the pandemic – one in every four or five – which is projected to rise to 16 million by 2023. And the Government’s response is indifference.
Last October, the Prime Minister told businesses that it wasn’t his job to fix their every problem. The Chancellor said he “can’t do everything” after criticism of his Spring Statement. Other ministers are saying similar.
We’re on our own now, shivering in a corner with the Trussell Trust. Only £3 million crowns get a lift in a Rolls Royce. The Government makes no bones about it: you’ll have to figure it out on your own. Perhaps you could use those bones to make a tasty broth? If you can afford to put the cooker on. But don’t think there’ll be jam with it. Not today.
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