The fact that many of those who seek donations of food are in ‘non-gainful’ employment is a situation that requires serious thought by politicians, businesses and society as a whole. A full-time job should come with a wage that enables people to live self-sufficiently, rather than having to rely to any great degree on charity or state benefits.
However, meanwhile, the gas price crisis, the looming £20-a-week Universal Credit cut and the end of the UK government’s furlough scheme, which is expected to lead to a wave of redundancies, are combining to create considerable hardship this winter.
About 300,000 people in Scotland are thought to be unable to pay their rent or mortgage, based on a recent YouGov poll, while higher energy bills could see 150,000 more people suffer from fuel poverty.
Now Christ Birt, of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has said that food banks will be “preparing for extra people coming through their doors” and that the over-stretched NHS will start to find elderly people seeking its help because “they're too cold”. “It's a bleak situation for a really wealthy country,” he said.
He objected to the term “perfect storm”, which has been used by some as a metaphor, arguing that a “storm is a natural event where there’s nothing you can do, whereas this is kind of designed by people, and we could do something about it”.
So, what to do? Even before the energy crisis, no fewer than six former Conservative Work and Pension Secretaries had urged Boris Johnson to make the temporary £20 Universal Credit uplift, introduced during the Covid pandemic, permanent.
Given the sudden and considerable increases in people’s energy bills, it would be no ‘U-turn’ by the UK government if it were to scrap or at the least delay plans to remove the extra payment, but simply a sensible and compassionate response to changed circumstances.
As for the rest of us, those who can afford it may wish to consider making a donation to a food bank. In a country in which charity now provides sustenance for so many, it hardly bears thinking about what happens if their stocks run out.