Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Opening of another food bank in Northern Ireland doesn't exempt Government from its responsibility

More and more people are using food banks
More and more people are using food banks

Another food bank has opened its doors in Lisnaskea in Co Fermanagh. Given that the recession is over and the economy is recovering, you would think that the number of food banks would be in decline, or at least not on the rise.

Unfortunately, more and more people are using food banks. This indicates that many people are still suffering as a result of the recession, which was caused by reckless banking practices, and the austerity measures that followed.

Initially, I thought that food banks' existence was a manifestation of the Government's 'Big Society' idea, where churches, voluntary and charity organisations step in to fill the vacuum created by the shrinking role of the Government, which has reduced its welfare budget and increased VAT at a time of hardship.

But it turned out that the Government is not only cutting spending; it also thinks the 'Big Society' is no longer needed. A few weeks ago, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, said food bank users "can't budget properly".

Chris Mould, from The Trussell Trust, which runs hundreds of food banks, criticised Gove and pointed out that people get referred to the food banks by professionals, such as head teachers, health visitors and social workers and that people go hungry in order to feed their children.

Given that the cost of food and energy is rising, while wages are falling in real terms, forcing many people to choose between eating and heating, then more people are going to use food banks.

However, the existence of these banks should not exempt the Government from its responsibilities.

The cuts have affected other sectors as well, including health and education. A senior medical officer in London warned that patients' safety has been compromised due to staff shortages.

I hope that the Government does not expect the "Big Society" churches to send priests and ministers to hospitals to replace doctors and nurses, or teachers.

I always thought governments collected tax in order to provide services.

Apparently, David Cameron changed the job description.

Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer who is based in Belfast

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