First published by The Independent, 21st March 2017
One of the most heartbreaking scenes in Ken Loach’s austerity tear-jerker I, Daniel Blake is where young mum Katie Morgan is forced to use a food bank. She is met by kindness and understanding from the food bank volunteers, a marked difference from the Job Centre staff who sanctioned her for being a few minutes late, in a new city, with two young children to feed. After putting a few items in a bag, Katie tears open a tin of baked beans, scoops them out with her hand and eats them cold, shaking and white-faced. She has been denying herself meals in order to keep her children fed. She is starving.
I, Daniel Blake might be fictional, but it is created from the testimonies of real benefit claimants and those working inside the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). It’s estimated that four million people in the UK are currently going hungry due to low wages, inflated utility prices and punitive welfare sanctions. This figure includes 500,000 young children.
In a recent interview with Vogue, our Prime Minister Theresa May was asked what her superpower would be if she had one. She responded: “I think I’d want to make sure that everyone in the world had access to clean water and sufficient food so that we didn’t see people starving.”
The blatant hypocrisy in May’s answer is staggering. She is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She doesn’t need a comic book “superpower” to ensure that people have enough food to eat – she could introduce policies that would reverse the effects of Tory austerity that have led to widespread hunger in her own country. She could move to scrap the hated Bedroom Tax and unfair benefit sanctions that are applied to claimants for a myriad of petty offences.
We cannot forget that it is the decision to impose austerity that has caused so much suffering and distress for Britain’s most vulnerable people. Despite what the Conservative government would have us believe, the cuts imposed on welfare and local services were ideological, not inevitable.