There used to be only one foodbank in Inverness.
Then, during the Lib Dem/Tory coalition years, something even more insidious grew out of austerity – another opportunity to drastically cut social security through the introduction of Universal Credit.
As a theory, simplifying a previously complex system was an idea that few would argue with – that was until it became clear that it was a vehicle to save money on the backs of those who could least afford it. We quickly this found out when Inverness was chosen as a pilot area for Universal Credit back in 2013.
Nearly 6 years on from that so called ‘pilot’, we have been left with a legacy of hardship and heartbreak.
During that time, we have done everything we could to show UK Government the harsh realities of Universal Credit – even begging Ministers to come and listen to the people affected and the professionals they turn to.
All these efforts were ignored, and they ploughed on regardless, making it clear the only cost that they are willing to bear is the cost of suffering.
So, after nearly 6 years of us explaining why Inverness now has a foodbank in every quarter of the city, Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary, was finally forced to admit the link between Universal Credit and food bank use.
That’s six years of suffering in our communities, six years of being accused of ‘scaremongering’, and six years of being told that Universal Credit is ‘helping people’.
Foodbanks aren’t just commonplace, they have become vital services in our communities, a staple of this Tory government’s cruel approach to welfare.
Back in 2013, the issues were immediate and little has changed. People fell into immediate debt because of the 6-week payment delay, and then for many, it was a constant battle to get the right payments in the months that followed. If that wasn’t bad enough, cuts to the rent element of their claim meant that simply paying the rent became harder and harder.
For some, they didn’t even have enough money to cover their rent, never mind having the money for food or to heat their home.
From there, things got worse as the disabled, single parents, the low-waged, and even self-employed people became ensnared in the Universal Credit carousel of cuts, blighted with repeated system errors.
For so many people, it has been a never-ending nightmare of delays, late payments, wrong payments, repeated requests for documents lost by the DWP themselves. And it has gone on.
And so has the growth of foodbanks.
We now have four in the city alone, with numerous other community-driven foodbank initiatives around. Over the summer holidays, foodbanks had to issue additional appeals. Such was the demand from parents who couldn’t afford to feed their children, lunch clubs were set up by local churches and charities, and requests for support grow every day.
Universal Credit is bust – it has failed and is failing people every day. When there is nowhere else to go, charity is all that’s left. That’s Tory Britain in 2019.