I wanted to write this piece straight after the general election. I began to see Facebook status’ of not-so-shy Tory voters banging on about the self-righteous left and some other nonsense about how awful Ed Miliband was. As a member of the ‘self-righteous’ left, I began to compose a passion filled, Fox loving, human right endorsing status. I began to furiously type why everyone was wrong, and I, the social justice fighting leftie would prevail to be the voice of reason on a day as horrendous as May the 8th. But just as I was about to publish my status, my sister rang me, she had finally got an offer to do medicine at Edinburgh. I was incredibly pleased, as she has worked tremendously hard over the past 2 years. After my phone call ended, I received a whatsapp from my close friend, announcing her engagement. After many squeals of delight, I was in a much better place, and saved the status for another day, I didn’t feel like arguing with ill-informed tory voters about benefit cuts.
But, as a politics student, it is my duty to shove my political views down your throat so hard that you can taste my tears of disappointment at the newly appointed government. Today, Cameron and Osborne released the first Conservative budget since 1996. But why am I bothered at all? ‘Who even cares? All politicians are the same!’ I hear you cry, but in this past year I have learnt the true extent of austerity, and I would like to share it with you.
This year, I wrote my dissertation on food banks. The question asked why there had been an 142% rise in food banks in the UK over the past five years. I visited 7 food banks as part of my research, and spoke to numerous volunteers and staff members. It’s important to establish what a food bank is at this point of the blog, it’s an apolitical organisation, that receives no funding from the government and solely relies on public donations. Clients of food banks must be referred from organisations such as the Job centre, the council, The CAB and the NHS. A client can only be referred 3 times, and their problem cannot be long ended – there must be a solution. I feel the need to explain this, as over the past year, a lot of people have asked what my dissertation topic was, and then gave a nonchalant shrug with one of the phrases ‘isn’t that for scroungers?’ ‘ I heard only immigrants use them!’ ‘They’re full of junkies.’ This baffled me. Until one day, I rang my grandfather, he asked me how my dissertation was going, and I began to relay some of my experience. Half way through he said ‘well that’s not what I read in the Mail..’ The Daily Mail published an article last year with the headline ‘No ID, No Checks… and vouchers for sob stories.’ Not only is this claim false but incredibly insulting to the hardworking volunteers, who give up their own time to help the most vulnerable in our society. The volunteers and staff do a fantastic job, when I visited they were unbelievably kind and patient. One of their crucial duties is to simply have a chat to the client, ask how they are doing, offer a cup of tea and a biscuit and suggest other agencies that a client may find useful.
My research found that a rise in food banks is down to several reasons. Including, benefit sanctions and benefit cuts. However, a lot of people who use food banks have jobs, yet simply not paid enough. Families are earning enough to pay the bills, and just about trundle on, but if there is unexpected bill; the car breaks down, the boiler stops working, suddenly a black hole is created in their finances, and they are stuck between a rock and a hard place: Do I keep a roof over my head or go hungry?
I now feel incredibly passionate on the issue of food banks, and I am consistently disappointed with this government’s lack of urgency on the matter. The Trussel Trust have recently fed their one millionth client. I dread to think what a further five years will bring to the most vulnerable people in the UK. As proven, austerity literally bites.
But I don’t have to wait five years, I barely waited 5 weeks. The budget was announced today, and yet again the most vulnerable people are in the firing line. University maintenance grants have now been cut. No longer will students from poorer backgrounds be eligible to receive a sum of money to allow them to survive. The government will save £2.5 Billion, but Britain will lose a generation of students. The grant will be replaced with a loan. The students that rely on grants cannot rely on their parents. As the loan is means tested on your parents income. We are letting the most disadvantaged young people pick up a bill that was not created by their spending or borrowing. Which I find troubling, and in all honesty, heart-breaking.
University is expensive. I lived in Reading as a student, and was given a £1000 loan every term. My rent was £375 a month – even over the summer months in which no loan was given. Without my part time job, my overdraft and help from my parents I would not have been able to attend university. I find it sickening that prospective students are being financially crippled by simply wanting to further their education and gain better opportunities for themselves.
The nasty party has returned with vengeance. This time they’re serious. About cutting tax credits and crushing dreams of social mobility. This is why I do not vote conservative and this is why I constantly share articles by Owen Jones on my facebook page. I ask that you keep donating to food banks, and maybe we could launch a kickstarter for all your poor friends that can’t afford to go to uni. But look on the Brightside, at least when your rich granny dies you won’t pay any tax.
(image found from The Guardian via google images)