Food bank users triple in a year as the cuts bite

The number of people who received emergency food aid rose to 346,992 in 2012-13, up from 128,697 the previous year.

In these straitened times, food banks are one of the few guaranteed growth industries. New figures released by the Trussell Trust today show that 346,992 people received a minimum of three days emergency food in 2012-13, nearly triple the number the previous year (128,697) and  a fivefold increase since the coalition came to power. 

The trust, which does not accept walk-ins (only referrals), is opening food banks at a rate of three a week and says between 400 and 650 more projects are needed to cope with expected demand, not least as a result of the cocktail of welfare cuts introduced this month, including the 1 per cent cap on benefit increases (an unprecedented real-terms cut), the 'bedroom tax' and the 10 per cent cut in council tax support. As the New Policy Institute's Adam Tinson recently reported on The Staggers, 2.6 million families are affected by at least one of the three absolute benefit cuts, and 440,000 are affected by more than one, with the latter set to lose an average of £16.90 a week. 

Number of food bank users

2008-09 25,899

2009-10 40,898

2010-11 61,468

2011-12 128,697

2012-13 346,992

Figures from the charity showed that 30 per cent using food banks over the last year were referred as a result of benefit delays and 15 per cent because of benefit cuts. 

Here's the statement from Trussell Trust executive chairman Chris Mould:

"The sheer volume of people who are turning to food banks because they can't afford food is a wake-up call to the nation that we cannot ignore the hunger on our doorstep.

"Politicians across the political spectrum urgently need to recognise the real extent of UK food poverty and create fresh policies that better address its underlying causes. This is more important than ever as the impact of the biggest reforms to the welfare state since it began start to take effect.

"Since 1 April we have already seen increasing numbers of people in crisis being sent to food banks with nowhere else to go."

Those who had received emergency help, he said, included "working people coming in on their lunch breaks, mums who are going hungry to feed children, people whose benefits have been delayed and people struggling to find enough work."

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said:

"The UK is the seventh richest country in the world yet under David Cameron’s leadership, we are facing a cost of living crisis and growing epidemic of hidden hunger, with some people increasingly unable to meet their family’s basic needs.

"These shocking figures show the number of people receiving food parcels from the Trussell Trust almost trebling in a year. This incompetent Tory-led Government needs to wake up to the human cost of their failed economic policies and change course now."

When challenged on the growth of food banks by Ed Miliband at PMQs last year, David Cameron unwisely hailed their volunteers as part of "the big society", prompting Miliband to reply, in one of his best lines, "I never thought the big society was about feeding hungry children in Britain." It will be worth watching to see how Cameron responds when, as they surely will, Labour MPs put the figures to him today. 

A volunteer sorts through donations of tinned food at the headquarters of the Trussell Trust Foodbank Organisation in Salisbury. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.