The quiet if not stealthy rise in the number of food banks across our country and the growth in the number of people who have been driven to use them should be shocking. What should also shock us is the speed with which food banks have become an established and sadly necessary part of our social landscape and people’s lives.
One interpretation is that, if nothing else the flawed austerity policy being actively pursued by Westminster is clearly not working for Wales. Also perhaps the growth in the number of food banks is also a clear indicator of a good forty years of failure of the Union to deliver real and lasting prosperity and economic benefits to the Welsh people.
According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), food poverty may well be becoming the next public health emergency. The number of people using food banks in Wales has rocketed in recent years, and has almost tripled in the last year. Figures produced by the Trussell Trust show that the number of food bank users has risen from 12,377 over six months in 2012 to 32,500 for six months in 2013 and also that some eleven thousand children have used food banks in the last six months in Wales.
The growth in the use of food banks is a result of the combined effect of the soaring cost of living, austerity cuts and ongoing stagnation in wages all of which means that more and more people in Wales are dependent on donations and charity to eat. The figures show that over thirty thousand people in Wales have been forced to take emergency food supplies or face going hungry. A third of these are children. Health experts are correct to be disturbed by these figures which suggest that food poverty could be the next big health emergency to hit Wales.
We have to get the basics right and a healthy diet is part of the solution, and an action needs to be taken to stop this food poverty becoming a major public health emergency. The Welsh Government should shake of it's self induced lethargy and actively and urgently revise its Anti-Poverty Strategy to introduce measures that will tackle the problem of food poverty head-on.
There are a number of ways to help people to help themselves including encouraging community food growing schemes, by making more land available for allotments and by working with food producers to make sure surplus stock can be sold at markets at affordable prices as well as support for producer co-ops are all measures that could bring down the cost of food.
The Labour in Wales Welsh Government needs to act to develop a long term sustainable food plan to guarantee good quality food at affordable prices to people in all parts of Wales. We need to see long term action being taken to minimise the impact of damaging UK Government austerity measures on Wales.