Breadline Britain

Published on Friday, 23 November 2012 15:11
Written by Luciana Berger

Following today's launch of the Breadline Britain Film, which highlights the current situation for many families faced with using foodbanks as they struggle with the current economic climate, Scott Buckler speaks exclusively to the film maker and MP for Liverpool Wavertree, Luciana Berger.

Luciana, how did you get involved in the campaign for foodbanks and the video itself?

I meet constituents all the time, and recently I'm meeting more constituents in need and a lot of that is down to delays in benefit payments coming through people who have got one member of the family working and people who have seen cuts to their family tax credits, working tax credits because the government changed the number of hours that they have to work.

I was also aware of the opening of a number of food banks across the country, but particularly in my constituency. I was absolutely appalled and shocked by what's going on.

I took part in a debate in parliament earlier this year and a number of MPs across the country also raised serious concerns about the increase in the number of people having to access emergency food aid, and what particularly spurred me on to this issue was a then-minister and his response to the debate was to single myself and another MP out to have a go at us, how dare we suggest that the increase in food banks was anything to do with the government and that the reason that there was an increase in food bank use is that they are now allowed to advertise in job centres. I don't think that is the reason why.

I spent quite a lot of time talking to people using food banks hearing their stories, it was heartbreaking. I just don't think enough people are aware, people just don't understand the depth of the problem and how it is increasing rapidly. I think it is a sad incitement to the 21st century that we are having to make food collections in supermarkets, people in need and I just wanted to raise the profile of the issue.

Why is it we are seeing more and more people turn to using foodbanks?

There are many reasons. Food prices have gone up, lower income families are spending around 15% of their disposable income on food so food prices are a massive element of that. People wait a week for their benefits to come through but if their circumstances change it takes 6 weeks for those changes to be acknowledged. If you've got no money you've got no money. It's 6 weeks, people don't have that cushion to rely on. It means people are not eating. The volume of cases that I'm dealing with people, the amount of letters I'm having to write to the Department of Work and Pensions, they have seen a reduction in staffing levels which is having an impact on how quickly they are able to process people's applications. People that are trying to access emergency, crisis loans they can spend the whole day on the phone and not get through to someone.

People are having their working tax credits reduced by £4000 pounds a year. For a low income family that's a massive amount of money. We are having a cost of living crisis, it's not just food. People are having to make the choice between heating and eating.

How do we rectify this, is it a speeding up process? More people working in the DWP?

Definitely and I think it's only going to get worse. If with universal credit you put all the money into the hands of one individual in a household that's going to impact on people. In Liverpool we're a pilot area where people can apply for their jobseekers online. But if you don't have internet or you don't know how to use the internet that going to add to your struggles so you have money to feed yourselves.

Do supermarkets have a corporate responsibility with managing price levels?

It's the government's responsibility to ensure everyone gets a fair price. At the moment in parliament we are discussing a supermarket adjudicator who would also ensure farmers get a fair price. There is a role for governments to play in ensuring that we're growing the right amount of stuff in the right places.

I think the problem is more acute when it comes to the gulf between profits and costs. It's not that the supermarkets aren't making cheep food available it s that the cheep food inst' the most nutritious food. Part of the definition of food poverty includes being able to access nutritious meals, 5 fruit and veg a day but we know fruit prices have gone up by 12%. That's a worldwide problem not just a problem specific to this country. Governments nationally and internationally have a role to play to look at how we grow food and how we support that sector.

It seems to me that, in spite of The Big Society the government are going down the road of universal credit, preventing this community from happening. If Labour were in power now what changes would you make?

We talk in parliament about decisions the government have made and one of the choices that we don't agree with is the impact on the amount of resources available, they don't tax people at the top. We don't think it's right that people earning a million pounds or more should be able to have a £40000 rebate. Yet at the same time they're cutting support left right and centre. Liverpool has had the highest cut per head outside London. The choices that they are making are hitting the most venerable people in our society.

Luciana, do you think there's a party politics at play here?

I can't say for sure that that is what the government has decided to do. But there is a direct correlation between the areas that have been cut and the labour councils

Liverpool is losing 15% of its controllable budget by 2015. How do you make choices under those circumstances? There's only so much efficiency and waste you can cut before you have to hit people hard.

The government is essentially getting local governments to do their dirty work for them. Unfortunately not everyone understands government decisions on the amount the government allocates to councils and it's the Labour councils that are having to make those difficult decisions.

What are your hopes for the movie?

There are different ways of raising awareness and making a film is a way of raising awareness of a difficult issue that not many people know about. It's happening in 2012 in Britain so we need to challenge those people who say it doesn't exist. Those who say people have chosen to be in that situation, which hurts because nobody chooses to be in that situation. I just want people to be aware that this is happening on our doorstep and if people can help or donate it really does make a difference.


The video can be viewed here-

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