by Ben Nolan (JCR Class Officer)
In the UK, there are 2,500 food banks. To put this into perspective, there are 1,374 branches of McDonald’s, 2,322 branches of Subway and 2,181 Greggs outlets. In the wake of increasing inflation and worsening energy costs, this statistic has never commanded a greater sense of urgency. The mark of a food bank on the nation marks a larger presence than a store that provides its staple foodstuff: the sausage roll. It appears that this British staple will soon be regarded as a luxury by many, with the majority of those reporting to a food bank having a monthly income of £50 after housing costs with some barely breaking even. According to the Rowntree Foundation, of the poorest fifth of UK households, just over a third have reported having liquid savings of £250, savings which will prove crucial as fuel costs increase. To express the urgency of this statistic, in 2019 – a year that saw the economic demands of the pandemic – one million households reported destitution, a 35-per-cent rise on 2017. I fear to see the level of destitution future statistics will reflect in the light of the cost-of-living crisis.
There are many in Oxford who may have experienced the impact suggested by these statistics first-hand, whether it be themselves, a friend or a family member. However, whilst wandering round Christ Church Meadow or rotting in the Gladstone Link, it may be easy to remain blind to the true impact of this current economic crisis. Financial instability does not just attack a person’s wallet, it is a disease that appears in the afflicted in a very physical form. It attacks the body – 75 per cent of those who have visited food banks have reported at least one health issue. It attacks the mind – 54 per cent of all food bank users reported a mental health problem, and with a Rowntree Foundation report finding half of those in the poorest fifth describing their debt as a burden, we can only imagine it to crush the soul. Poverty and destitution are as much a pandemic as the one we all experienced in 2019. Those afflicted often do not display their symptoms, they may delay in looking for help which is even more reason to act.
Whilst the cure can only be administered by forces at the level of government, those unaffected by the crisis can still lessen the effects. The greatest way you can help is by donating leftover non-perishable goods you have from cooking or buying an extra tin or packet with the intention of donating with your shopping. Or you could donate money to local UK-based charities that deal with poverty. It is a shame we must do this in a country that remains the sixth-largest economy in the world, yet we cannot just sit and comment on the state of the United Kingdom.
We must act.