Walking the Breadline: Hitting a raw nerve

Walking the breadlineYou know you’ve hit a chord – or struck a raw nerve – when your latest report draws an immediate response from most of the major political parties – and when you see people reading it on the front page of their daily papers on the way to work.  Yesterday’s launch of our Walking the Breadline report was one such day.

If you haven’t read the report – or emailed your MP in support of our call for an urgent Parliamentary Inquiry into the growth of food poverty – you can do so here.

Headlines in most (but not all) of the daily papers told the story: ‘Britain’s hungry half million’ (i); ‘Hungry Britain: More than 500,000 people forced to use food banks’ (Independent); ‘Growth in food banks fuels calls for poverty inquiry’ (FT); ‘Welfare cuts have caused hunger and destitution, charities report’ (Guardian); ‘Benefit reforms ‘have left hundreds of thousands hungry” (Telegraph).

The report was covered prominently on ITV’s Daybreak programme, Sky News and Channel 4 News – along with over 20 local BBC radio stations (necessitating a mammoth 2 1/2 hour stint in front of the microphone with five minutes each in quick succession for stations from Tyneside to Devon and Cumbria to Sussex).

As the story gathered pace during the day, politicians as well as journalists felt the need to respond to what we had labelled a ‘national disgrace.’

Business Secretary, Vince Cable, contradicting a rather bland statement from the Department for Work and Pensions issued in advance of the launch – told ITV’s Daybreak that the situation facing thousands of Britons was ‘a very real issue’ and accepted that ‘there are people slipping through the cracks in the system.’

Meanwhile, Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh MP commented that:  “The UK is the seventh richest country in the world yet we face a growing epidemic of hidden hunger with people increasingly unable to meet their family’s basic needs. These shocking figures show the extent of poverty in the UK with half a million people now relying on emergency food parcels for help.”

By this morning (Friday), the story has been taken up by a slay of bloggers, letter writers and other commentators.  Mark Steel is in typically ascerbic form in today’s Independent ‘Next we’ll be saying the poor don’t need to eat’, with the Guardian’s John Harris asking What kind of country is this becoming?

And even as I write this, Channel 4 News’ FactCheck publishes a vindication of the main finding of the report: “There is mounting evidence that the inadequacies of the welfare safety net are now directly driving the growth of hunger and reliance on charitable food handouts.”

It’s gratifying – but chastening – to know that our report has hit a raw nerve.  With all the media coverage of our Walking the Breadline reports, we’ve gone some way to conveying the scale of the crisis affecting literally hundreds of thousands across the UK who are struggling even to put food on the table, and we’ve started to hold politicians to account for failing to protect the poorest and most vulnerable from the impact of recession, austerity and welfare reform.  But the challenge is now to turn that into momentum for real change.

If you haven’t yet emailed your MP in support of our call for an urgent Parliamentary Inquiry into the growing scandal of food poverty  – do so right now.

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