Why isn’t this the food bank election?

In the world's sixth richest country, a record number of people will be starving at Christmas. 

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A record number of people will use food banks this Christmas. The busiest month for food banks last year was December, and there has been a general rise in food bank use since then (April to September this year saw a 23 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2018). We're heading for a record high this winter, according to the Trussell Trust food bank charity.

There will also be people who go without income over the Christmas period. Universal Credit, the new welfare system, has a five-week waiting time for the first payment. This delay has not been reduced by the government, despite it driving up food bank use. People applying for Universal Credit now will go without money over the Christmas period, unless they meet tight criteria for an emergency loan.

It matters that the number of people going hungry in Britain is rising all year round, but it particularly matters now that we're heading into a general election in the run-up to Christmas. This is the best time to draw attention to the most shameful thing about modern Britain – a record number of food bank users in one of the world’s biggest economies – and compel voters to change it.

At election time, people consider the state of the country and what they want its future to look like. And it’s December – a rare time for an election, and therefore an opportunity. People tend to care more about rough sleeping in cold weather, and give more generously at Christmas, so this could be a good moment to harness that empathy.

People also generally worry more about money and making ends meet in the festive period, so may take that anxiety to the ballot box and vote for something different.

If this is going to be the peak time for poverty, then this vote should be the food bank election. The in-work poverty election. The homelessness election. The absent-mental-health-provision-until-you-reach-rock-bottom election.

But it’s not.

Perhaps it’s because the Labour party, which is more sympathetic to these things and has tried to come up with answers, is distracted. Perhaps it’s because the Conservatives don’t accept their manifesto is forecasted to bring about record child poverty, or don’t believe they play a part at all. Perhaps it’s because charities that usually campaign on these things have to submit to extra-strict impartiality rules around election time. Perhaps it’s because media outlets decided this would be the “Brexit election”, once and for all.

Whatever the reason, this is not the food bank election. And probably, because of that national failing, it means food bank Britain will continue.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

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