Friday, May 31, 2013

Foodbanks are a symptom of social disease

The Guardian reports that foodbanks now feed half a million people in the UK. Its a shocking indictement on their welfare "reforms", which have seen benefits slashed and people arbitrarily denied support or pushed off benefits to meet management quotas. But it should also make us wonder how many people in New Zealand are in a similar situation.

Data is hard to come by. Back in 2011 the Herald used stats from the Salvation Army and Auckland City Mission to show rocketing foodbank use, and more recent stories suggest it has increased even further. Part of the story is the recession, and part of it is National's benefit cuts and drive to kick people off benefits in a time of record unemployment, but the truly awful fact is that (on the Herald's conservative numbers) thousands of people - including thousands of children - were dependent on foodbanks even during the boom years when Labour was in power and unemployment was low. Which means that this isn't just about temporary unemployment, its about the adequacy of long-term benefits such as the sickness and domestic purposes benefits, and about low wages. The fact that people were forced to use foodbanks even during a boom tells us that both are stingy and inadequate. And that is an indictment on our society, that we do not properly care for those at the bottom of the heap, and that (contrary to right-wing myth) having a job is not enough protection against poverty.

If John Campbell is looking for a new crusade now he's won the argument on school food, he could do worse than take this on. There is no place for foodbanks in a decent society. The fact that they still exist is a sign of our indecency and squalor. They are a symptom of a social disease of poverty and inequality. Our government should eradicate that disease, and in doing so, put the foodbanks out of business.