Recently released figures have drawn attention to the rise of the food bank in Britain, with four million people in the UK now at risk of going hungry. Such statistics give an indication of the growing poverty in the country, highlighting the inability for capitalism to provide a basic standard of living for many ordinary people.
“If we keep thinking that #foodbanks are the answers to hunger, bairns will go to bed hungry for another generation to come,” says activist Harry Leslie Smith on Twitter – reflecting an attitude that is beginning to emerge right across the country.
As many will already know from their own observations and experiences, Britain has the greatest income inequality in Western Europe. In more shocking news, however, data released by the Department of Work and Pensions last year revealed that 17% of children, or 2.3 million, live in relative poverty, and 2.6 million in absolute poverty. In July, Stoke-on-Trent City Council had to set up a Hardship Commission after children were found rifling through bins for something to eat.
Four million facing hunger
A report released on the 8th December by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the UK accused the coalition government of not doing enough to tackle the issue of the increasing amount of people in Britain who are going hungry. Four million people across the UK, according to the report, are at risk of going hungry, including an estimated 500,000 children in families that cannot afford to feed them.
The same report found that between 2003 and 2013, inflation of basic necessities – such as food, fuel and housing – was higher in Britain than in any other advanced western economy. As a result of stagnating incomes, attacks on welfare, and rising energy bills, many families are now said to be only “one unexpected bill away from financial crisis”.
Some organisations have tried to help out their neighbours: there now are over 400 Trussell Trust food banks currently operating in the UK, up from only a handful a few years ago, and the number of food banks across Europe and the US is also increasing.
Around 22% of people who use food banks say it’s due to low income, and nearly 30% say it’s due to benefit delays or even sanctions. It was reported in the BBC, for example, that Mark, aged 25, was sanctioned for “not seeking work”, even though his support worker argued that he did everything that the Department of Work and Pensions asked him to do.
Society going backwards
Such a vast number of food banks would have been unthinkable thirty years ago in Britain, and these failures to meet basic needs was last seen in the war and immediate post-war periods. This is the reality of austerity Britain: society has been thrown backwards by generations.
The defenders of the capitalist market, meanwhile, see nothing wrong with societal phenomena such as food banks. To such people, who have faith in neo-liberalism and capitalism, poverty, in life, is natural and inevitable. The rich might provide for the poor through philanthropic, paternalistic charity; but it is not the role of the government to go about ‘interfering’ and raising living standards as a whole.
This emerging reliance on food banks points to the unsustainable and useless nature of a “trickle-down” capitalist economy, under which inequality and poverty are inevitable. According to figures released in 2010, the richest 10% enjoyed a 35% increase in income between 1998/1999 and 2008/2009; and yet the poorest 10% saw a decrease of over 10%.
Since David Cameron took office, 17,000 bottles of champagne have been consumed by the House of Lords. But while many in the Houses of Parliament epitomise wealth and elitism, income inequality is not a mere failing of the coalition government alone – it is a result of a system of private ownership and production for profit, an unfair system based upon the class exploitation of the majority by the wealthy few.
The confines of capitalism
The WOW campaign, a group against welfare cuts, suggested on Twitter “the adoption of a fairer, speedier and less punitive benefits system” and “the introduction of a national living wage”. Such measures, however, won’t stop inequality from creeping up on society as capitalism continues to cause poverty and deprivation, and as the ruling classes make ordinary people pay for the economic crisis.
Inequality and poverty are an inherent part of the capitalist system, and therefore cannot be solved within the confines of such a system, even through the reforms suggested by many on the so-called “left”, like many anti-cuts campaigns, and even within the mainstream Labour party.
A job that provides you with good wages and conditions, a decent home, and access to free education and healthcare, are all reasonable things to demand. Three healthy meals a day, enough disposable income to explore your passions and interests, and the time to participate in politics, should be rights, not luxuries. The wealth to implement these things evidently exists; the problem is that such wealth is controlled by a tiny elite, and will only ever be used in order to make a profit, rather than for social needs.
From each according to their abilities; to each according to their needs
To guarantee such basic things for everyone, then, we need a revolutionary transformation of society. This would involve the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, including the banks, utilities, land, and major corporations. Once in public hands, run and managed under democratic workers’ control, we can implement a long-term, rational socialist plan of production, guaranteeing full employment for everyone who is physically and mentally able to work.
This would then create a society where inequality and poverty are things of the past. Food banks, freezing to death in the cold months, homelessness and exploitation would be a scandalous part of history instead of a living reality. Such a society would have inscribed on its banner Marx’s famous aphorism: from each according to their ability; to each according their needs.