I’ve been helping to organise #walkthetalk2015 for some time, and a recent conversation with some fellow walkers made me think about how the walk might be interpreted or portrayed. There is no doubt that food banks and homeless shelters provide vital support and almost always need more help to continue to provide these services to those in need… and if we highlight that then that’s absolutely worthwhile. However, there it is the wider concern of how people increasingly need to turn to such services, which is at the heart of my support for the walk.
26% more people in England have applied for homelessness assistance from local authorities in 2014/15 compared to 5 years ago – and that figure doesn’t account for those who aren’t entitled to the assistance or didn’t apply for other reasons, a group that Crisis term the ‘hidden homeless’ which has been estimated to represent the majority of homeless people. While there are personal turning points which can result in homelessness, the structural causes are closely aligned with the causes of food poverty; unemployment or worklessness, poverty, housing costs, and social housing policy.
The Trussell Trust, whose 430 foodbanks account for around half of those in the UK, report usage increases of around 20% per year. What is staggering is that the government seem uninterested in this – the Department of Work and Pensions do not monitor the use of foodbanks and have no plans to do so in the future. They also criticise the usage figures that food banks are reporting, suggesting they are unreliable as they have not been independently checked. Regardless of the percentage by which their use is increasing, shouldn’t we be questioning why the UK is in a position of people relying on foodbanks in the first place? In a country where we pride ourselves on having a welfare system that protects those in need, why are the majority of homeless people in a position of being ignored by decision makers and invisible to the statutory systems that should be supporting them? These are the questions I hope people will take from the walk.
I think we all hope to highlight the structural issues that are causing people to turn to these services rather than just be seen to be supporting the excellent work they do. Although any support they get as a result of the walk will be hugely appreciated, we shouldn’t forget the failings in our society which have made them a necessity – not only can we do something about them, I think we have a responsibility to do so.