October 10, 2017 / 8:00 PM / in a year

Drama about growing hunger in Britain prompts call for action

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain’s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is calling for “dramatic” action to tackle growing hunger and poverty after seeing a play based on real-life events that showed parents skipping meals to feed their children.

The play “Food Bank As It Is,” depicting stories of food poverty and threats of eviction, was performed this week at London’s historic Houses of Parliament for politicians and others.

Written by a London food bank manager, the play brings to life the misery of hunger, which government data show is on the rise.

“Something has to be done, and it’s got to be dramatic,” Labour Party leader Corbyn told the Thomson Reuters Foundation after watching the play on Monday.

“As a society, we have anaesthetized ourselves in the media to the reality of poverty in Britain and the reality of the misery of so many people’s lives.”

The number of people using Britain’s food banks, which provide emergency supplies, has risen amid government austerity cuts, stagnant wages and increasing living costs.

The Trussell Trust, which runs a network of food banks, provided almost 1.2 million three-day food supplies in the year up to March, up by more than 70,000 from the previous 12 months.

“My fear is that food banks are now becoming institutionalized,” Corbyn said following the performance that was organized by Neil Coyle, a Labour Member of Parliament.

He called for an increase in benefits, which were capped last November, more support for job seekers and increased taxes for higher earners.

One character in “Food Bank As It Is,” written by Tara Osman, is based on Mark O’Connor, a onetime mental health worker for the National Health Service.

He suffered depression, lost his job and had no money to eat.

“By the time I used a food bank, it had been five days that I’d been without food,” O’Connor told the Foundation. “It’s embarrassing, and you just feel like worthless.

“I live in London. I live in England,” he added. “One of the wealthiest countries on the planet, and I’m having to beg for food.”

The number of people going without food in Britain has been rising since 2010, said Rachel Loopstra, a nutrition lecturer at London’s King’s College.

“People with disabilities, lone-parent households and families with three or more children are particularly vulnerable to needing to use food banks,” she told the Foundation.

Suffering from hunger, people are less able to manage chronic diseases, children perform poorly in school and mental health declines, she said.

Trussell Trust data show referrals for people to receive emergency food have risen in areas where a new system overhauling benefits, universal credit, has been introduced.

Opposition parties and several politicians say they want to delay roll-out of the universal credit system that has led to delays of more than six weeks for claims to be processed.

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke told parliament on Monday that the government would stick to its timetable for the new scheme, which streamlines six existing benefits into a single monthly payment.

(The story fixes typos in grafs 10, 14 and 19)

Reporting by Ruairi Casey, editing by Katy Migiro and Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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