London mayor Sadiq Khan rued the capital’s food bank crisis as a “source of shame” on Thursday, 12th October during his latest Question Time at City Hall.
Khan, responding to a question from Florence Eshalomi, Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark, highlighted that more Londoners are being referred to food banks as a direct result of government policy changes.
“It shows that not just the current leader of the Tory party but the future leaders also are out of touch,” Khan took a swipe at Prime Minister Theresa May.
“I think what’s clear to me is it should be a source of shame for one of the richest cities in the world to have friends, neighbours, and family members who’ve got to rely upon the charity of family and friends or a food bank.”
Khan cited data from poverty charity Trussell Trust, saying 26 per cent of referrals are caused by ‘delays to receiving benefits, initially particularly linked to the rollout of universal credit’.
Universal credit has been a national issue in the UK the past few months as delays in receiving first payments have left many claimants in debt or forced into poverty. It took 42 days for one in four claimants to get a first payment, according to The Guardian.
Eshalomi, Khan’s fellow Labour Party member, put forth similar data saying the Pecan Food Bank in Peckham, Southwark had a ‘massive 33 per cent increase’ of referrals from April to July this year. She added that 94 per cent of those referrals are ‘a direct result of changes to benefits’ to illustrate the scale of the problem.
Khan said a soon-to-be-published report on where London currently stands with the issue will paint a clearer picture of what his government is dealing with. Come next year, Khan said he will follow that up with a new London Food Strategy ‘which will include a focus on alleviating food poverty’.
Both Khan and Eshalomi agreed collecting accurate data is challenging because of the stigma connected with resorting to food banks, which means many people who need it do not avail out of shame and they aren’t properly accounted for. Instead, Khan said, they ask for help elsewhere or simply go hungry.
Khan explained: “The situation is even more serious when you consider that food and security is likely to be much higher than food bank use as many people who may be eligible for support from food banks don’t use their services due to the associated stigma. In a city as prosperous as London, it’s not acceptable that people have to rely on food banks to feed themselves.”
— Jane Bracher (@janebracher) October 12, 2017
Eshalomi, who posed her questions to Khan with her newborn baby boy quietly laying in her arms, also raised the issue of high-profile politicians not taking food poverty seriously, compounding the matter further.
“It’s heartbreaking to see people’s dignity affected this way,” Khan said. “It’s heartbreaking to see the stigma attached to it. We’ve got to reduce the stigma, we’ve got to give people the confidence to come forward and ask for help. There’s nothing uplifting about seeing poverty in London and the need for food banks.”