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Malnutrition, food queues, housing shortages – this is modern Britain

Malnutrition, food queues, housing shortages – this is modern Britain
3 min read

Shadow minister for Children and Families, Lisa Nandy, calls for Ministers to stop attacking the poor and start tackling poverty.

Sometimes countries fall into crisis in a short space of time, with distressing scenes as charities are overwhelmed by need, people queue for food, housing and emergency medical treatment for malnutrition. But this isn’t a country hit by war, famine or disaster. Increasingly this is modern Britain.

Today in Parliament MPs will debate how far the government is responsible for creating this picture. It’s time we talked about the fact that the numbers of people admitted to hospital with malnutrition doubled between 2008 and 2012, reaching a seven year high last year. Or the number of police forces reporting a rise in shoplifting for food and groceries over the last three years. And the half a million more children growing up in grinding, degrading poverty since this government took office.

These are actions caused not just by government inaction, but by choices made by Ministers in the last five years.

The sanctions regime, that left my constituent with 1p to live on for a month after he took a temporary job over Christmas. Or a young man with learning difficulties left so hungry “he looked like he was dying” in the words of a local councillor, after he was four minutes late to sign on at the Job Centre.

These are political choices. The 2012 Budget that cut tax credits and benefits in real terms, leaving an elderly man in Wigan living on a bowl of porridge a day, also cut taxes for millionaires by £2000 a week. And the bedroom tax that has ripped people out of their communities and pushed people into the arms of loan sharks, but done nothing in communities like mine to free up housing or save money.

Increasingly nobody is exempt – among those affected by these choices are older people, cancer patients, and children. It started with just a few, but it’s affecting more and more people. It’s destroying the social fabric - communities under significant strain, are losing the social glue that used to bind them together.

But it isn’t just those directly affected that should be worried. These sort of policies create transient communities, high stress, isolation and public services with little room for discretion or compassion. Nowhere was this better exemplified than by the experience of two of my constituents who were sanctioned for attending a family funeral. The ripple effects are felt beyond the very poorest.

The real causes of this misery are low pay, insecure contracts, and a system that allows loan sharks to prey on the vulnerable and energy companies to pass on price rises to customers but not price cuts. Ministers have no answers to these problems so instead of focusing on underemployment, they hit the underemployed, instead of tackling poverty, they attack the poor – and increasingly those charities and church groups who speak up for them.

It isn’t sustainable. In 2015, as more children are pushed into poverty, parents queue for foodbanks and families are evicted from their homes, more and more people are speaking out. Like Labour, they know that Britain can do better than this. 

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