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Hunger now stalks Britain Politicians no longer have a moral compass

The Tories have lost their moral compass (Daniel Harvey Gonzalez/In Pictures via Getty Images)

The Tories have lost their moral compass (Daniel Harvey Gonzalez/In Pictures via Getty Images)


October 7, 2022   4 mins

Richmond Foodbank. Two words that should keep the Tory faithful up at night. Six months ago, I moved parish from the inner city to leafy southwest London. This is the land of cricket on the green, 4×4’s, private schools, and streets of fine Victorian mansions.

What I didn’t expect was a local food bank, which last year gave out more than 5,000 emergency supplies to hungry people. Statistically, Richmond has some of the lowest rates of poverty of any London borough. If there is a food bank here, the Tories are toast.

Last Sunday was our Harvest Festival. We brought hoop spaghetti, toothpaste, and health care products to the altar. At lunchtime, 60 of us sat down in the church hall for shepherd’s pie and trifle, raising several hundred pounds for the food bank. Every spud peeled, every carrot scraped was another reminder of the failure of trickle-down economics. If people are going hungry in an area as posh as this, I don’t give the Tories a sniff of winning the next election.

Not that the food was that appealing at the Tory Party Conference in Birmingham, judging by the looks of those who laboured through their tasteless Starbucks sandwiches. The tone was funereal. They have lost their appetite, not just for bread and cheese, but for government too apparently.

Pacing about those gloomy halls, it was good to see the friendly face of Danny Kruger, MP for Devizes, and, not unrelated to the purpose of my trip, the son of restaurateur and food critic Prue Leith. I told him I was at conference to argue for restoring Britain’s 0.7% aid target: once an international standard of generosity for rich countries. He smiled at me, sympathetically: “Good luck with that.” The Tories had other things on their minds. Much more pressing issues, apparently.

But what could be more pressing than this? “Do we care, do we act, and do we lead? The promise of 0.7% meant that we — Global Britain — answered ‘yes’ to all three,” said David Cameron in 2020. But the current Tory party seems to have forgotten all this precisely at a time when it is most important.

“Growth, growth, growth” intoned the Prime Minister at her conference speech, obviously pleased with herself at presenting so succinctly the holy trinity of Trussian economics. With harvest hymns still ringing in my ears — “We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land” — I wondered how her philosophy of growth related to the growth of real living things — being rooted, being fed and watered, being tended. For her, growth seems to be the thing that happens when the gardener, aka the state, stops interfering. But the state of my garden tells me that when you do this, the weeds will always win. It is not insignificant that the people most upset by the bright idea of “economic development zones”, which means tax breaks and planning liberalisation, are those who point out the environmental impact. There is good growth and bad growth.

To be fair, the Tories can’t be blamed entirely for the current crisis of food insecurity. Putin’s wicked invasion of Ukraine has devastated the breadbasket of Europe. Russians have been deliberately shelling agricultural lands with incendiary shells, burning down crops, using food and hunger as a weapon of war. Because of this — and yes, for other reasons too — 40 million people in the horn of Africa are on the edge of starvation. In many places, fertiliser has become too expensive for the poor to buy, leading to low crop yields. Farmers in Somalia are surrounded by the white bones of their dead cattle. Many have abandoned their fields looking for more fertile lands. But despite their arduous travels, they find the famine wherever they go.

I sat on a panel with Vicky Ford, the new Development Minister and Emma Revie, the CEO of the Trussell Trust, which runs the Richmond Foodbank along with 1,300 others in the UK. A handful of people attended our event. Outside the meeting, groups of young men in the ubiquitous Tory uniform of blue suits and open-neck white shirts walked past at West Wing pace, obviously going somewhere terribly important. But they weren’t coming in here.

I do believe Vicky Ford gets it. She was off to Ethiopia on Tuesday. But there were few answers to the challenges that now face the poorest people in the world. New technology could be leveraged to help, she explained. And the Qatari’s are being very generous too. The Tories have promised that they will return to the 0.7% target once the economy is back on track. “Good luck with that,” I said, perhaps a little too sharply. “Be nice,” replied the Minister. But I am not in the mood for being nice about this. We should be far angrier.

In 2015, the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals, which aimed to eliminate hunger by 2030. But we are nowhere near hitting that goal: in fact, global hunger levels have risen since 2015. Today, nearly 9% of the world’s population are hungry.

The Harvest Festival looks very different in church these days. Instead of giant leeks and corn dollies, we pile up baked beans in front of the altar. And when we pray “give us this day our daily bread”, we think of combine harvesters in Ukraine dodging enemy tank fire and desperate families trekking across the Sudan, with a child in one hand and a packet of seeds in another.

But we also think of families in Britain struggling to afford their weekly food shop. Hunger has never just been an issue for the developing world, and now that it’s found its way to the door of places like Richmond, the tin-eared Conservative party will finally have to take note. It may be politically convenient to ignore starving children in Sudan, but it’s foolhardy for politicians to turn their backs on a hungry electorate. If the party has any hope of winning the next election, it will have to find itself a moral compass.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
1 year ago

The average westerner eats 3000 calories a day, those earning below the national average, tend to average higher at 4000 calories a day. They are also significantly more likely to be obese than someone who earns the national average or higher. This, however, is not because healthy food is too expensive, the group that spends the least on food are vegetarians and vegans who are of a healthy weight.

Food banks tell us nothing about the nutritional health of our nation or any other for that matter (food banks are common across Western Europe and America). There is no indication that there is wide spread malnutrition amongst the population, which would be detectable through underweight individuals, stunted growth in children and diseases associated with chronic malnutrition. None of which I can find any evidence of, quite the opposite, with over consumption of being well on its way to be the leading cause of illness and premature death in the west.

So who uses food banks? The most common users are those who have encountered acute financial distress. Typically those who have experienced delays in the benefits system. The next largest group are those with issues with dependency, food bank usage increased in Scotland after the minimum price for alcohol was introduced, as problem drinkers don’t cut back, even when the price is increased. Giving them food is far preferable to giving them extra cash.

This is not a bad thing. Food banks help protect those with dependancies from themselves at times of vulnerability and reduce fraud by not handing out extra cash needed elsewhere. Though they are charities, many take significant funding from the taxpayer and have been privately encouraged as a supplement to the benefits system. They are likely to remain a permanent feature now, regardless of the health of the economy.

Of course there are those who will consider it heartless to take this stance. My point is not that it is wrong to help individuals in need or that Food Banks aren’t the correct way to do this, it’s that it is simply untrue to state that hunger is a real credible threat to the health of the nation. You are thousands of times more likely to eat, drink or smoke yourself to death than to perish from hunger.

It’s true that people are experiencing genuine financial pressure in the current crisis and this can cause immense stress and unhappiness but to use the same terms “hunger” and “poverty” to describe both an obese westerner who is struggling financially but still enjoys a lifestyle half the planet can only dream of and an impoverished African, suffering from disease because of genuine malnutrition and experiencing a level of poverty not seen in this country for over 100 years; is perverse.

The existence of Food Banks does not tell us that we have lost our moral compass, providing non-financial aid to the vulnerable is likely a far more effective than giving money to those who problems often stem dependancies or from an inability to manage their finances. But it does tell us a lot about the Orwellian media environment we live in today. Where in a country experiencing an obesity epidemic, the media is gorging itself on stories about hunger.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matthew Powell
Tim Smith
Tim Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Great comment.

I do think Giles raises many important points. But I do disagree with the point that food banks are a sign of moral failure. Surely people voluntarily helping those in need is a sign of a caring society?

Why is it when people need to rely on food banks that’s morally bad, but they they need to rely on state benefits, that’s apparently fine?

Unfortunately the existence of food banks has been politicised, such that something that should be a sign of a strong society where we help each other out, has become a stick with which to attack the government

Kevin Flynn
Kevin Flynn
1 year ago
Reply to  Tim Smith

It is splendid that people voluntarily help those in need. The persistence of food banks, however, (and they exist in many countries, not just the UK), gives the message that caring for those in need is just for those who are disposed to do that kind of thing, rather than a collective responsibility.

John Lammi
John Lammi
1 year ago
Reply to  Kevin Flynn

I am not aware that I participate in a collective responsibility to provide for anyone who needs things.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Completely agree. This stick of food banks and relative poverty figures are used by charities (which are actually quangos in that they recieve huge amounts of public funding) to beat the government.
It is ridiculous to suggest poverty stalks Britain.
Poorer people in Britain receive:

  • The state pension (if they are of age)
  • Universal Credit top up payments if they are in work
  • Free healthcare
  • Free education for their kids
  • Subsidised childcare for pre-school kids
  • Extremely cheap food (Asda Just Essentials, Aldi etc)
  • Housing benefit to pay their rent if needed
  • Job seekers allowance if needed
  • Help to find work and retrain if needed
  • Extremely cheap clothing (Primark etc).

We have 3% unemployment and vacancies galore. They are about to get a big subsidy for their heating bills. The list goes on and on.
I doubt there is a country on earth where the poor are better off.
Also giving 0.5% of GDP in Foreign Aid is higher than almost any other country too.
The way Lefties and other cranks run this country down never fails to astound and annoy me!

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt M
Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

I suggest that you look around a bit and you might be surprised.
“the UK is ranked significantly below many other European nations in terms of the money it spends on welfare, including France, Germany and Italy.” – a bit out of date but I suspect no real change – https://fullfact.org/immigration/uks-welfare-system-most-generous-europe/
UK 17th on the list of welfare spending as a %age of GDP – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_social_welfare_spending
Here’s something to download and read – I didn’t but it is a subject obviously dear to you so have a go – https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/welfare-states-how-generous-are-british-benefits-compared-other-rich

John Lammi
John Lammi
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

The lower the better

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Exactly! As I said, I doubt there is a better place on earth to be poor.

17th out of 260-odd countries on welfare spending plus all those other things: cheap groceries, cheap clothing, free education on offer from cradle to grave, the NHS, ultra low unemployment, rising wages, energy subsidies and furlough from the public purse in times of strife, free museums and libraries, a caff on every high street that will do you a fry-up for a few quid, Weatherspoons, McDonalds, Greggs, a temperate climate so people neither freeze or overheat, a church on every corner offering free spiritual refreshment and practical help, being born fluent in the language of commerce that opens endless opportunities, a polite and unarmed police force that doesn’t harass poor people and decent, law-abiding neighbours that don’t pry.

Seems a pretty good deal to me.

No wonder poor people are arriving here by the boatload.

Jans Gild
Jans Gild
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Tony, do your sources take account of levels of unemployment and economic inactivity? Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but most of those with higher welfare spending than UK (France, Italy, Spain, etc.) also have much higher rates of unemployment and economic inactivity.

I looked at the primary source (the OECD’s Social Expenditure Database) and couldn’t find anything to suggest the rankings are weighted.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jans Gild
Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Jans Gild

Exactly Jans.
France has a jobless rate twice that of the UK (7.4% v 3.6%). It is little wonder they have to spend more on welfare.
I think Tony has got it back-to-front. As John Lammi says above, we would surely prefer more people working and fewer needing government support.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt M
Mike F
Mike F
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Very well written comment, probably more worthy of being the main article than the slightly hysterical polemic of Giles Fraser, above.
Just to add, those with very little spare money, given the choice between buying (for example) new shoes for their children or food for their children will understandably spend the money on shoes when they can get food for free, but not the shoes. Food banks free up some families’ cash for other bills.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

It is extraordinary as to how many walking black bin bags filled with lard waddle down our streets? Mainly female..

Nota Chance
Nota Chance
1 year ago

Oh Giles you do go on!

But what, exactly, would you have the government do? How exactly does restoring international donations to tinpot nations help restore food security in the UK?

Would Somalia have improved food security with vast sums of money from the developed west? And if so, why hasn’t this strategy worked in the past? Isn’t it likely that yet more money spent in that failed state would simply find its way into the pockets of Al-Shabaab like it did in the last two decades of failed interventionism there?

Nobody wants people to starve, but it’s almost willful ignorance at this stage to claim that we can solve deep fundamental issues in some far-away land with money we simply don’t have to give

Last edited 1 year ago by Nota Chance
Daiva Brr
Daiva Brr
1 year ago
Reply to  Nota Chance

Subsidiarity FTW! 🙂 Works best in every facet of social organisation, from (self)governance to charity. Things should be done at the most local level possible, through interactions of real people in meat space.

Layered stacks of bureaucratic intermediaries serve nobody ‘cept said bureaucrats. Where we did lose our compass is expecting the giverment to solve everything. It’s these ‘solutions’ that make ongoing problems worse and give birth to more.

Last edited 1 year ago by Daiva Brr
Lesley Braysher
Lesley Braysher
1 year ago
Reply to  Nota Chance

Sorry I didn’t mean to down vote you. You make a very good point. The generous overseas aid we have been giving for years doesn’t seem to have helped anyone at all, except the corrupt leaders of the countries we have have donated to,. By the way, what happened to all the Live Aid and other such charitable events money? Where has that gone?

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 year ago

A few years ago, when the existence of food banks was previously used as a stick to beat the ‘Evil Tories’ with, an investigation found that the food banks were in place to cover the gap between (poor) people losing their jobs and the start of payment of state benefits. The systemic delays are worth criticising – but there is provision in the benefit system to feed the hungry.
So, starvation in parts of Africa is very real. Starvation in the UK is overblown to recruit political dissenters.

Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
1 year ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Yes, the theory was (and still is?) that food banks were not for the long-term poor. They were for people who were normally OK but were temporarily out of funds. This could be associated with the fact that so many families have no savings to see them through hard times, and that many families maintain a permanent credit-card debt.

Roddy Campbell
Roddy Campbell
1 year ago

Blaming the Tories for the devastation caused by brutal and corrupt African dictators is a sleight-of-hand too far.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

“To be fair, the Tories can’t be blamed entirely for the current crisis of food insecurity. Putin’s wicked invasion of Ukraine has devastated the breadbasket of Europe. â€œ
Giles, not so adroitly, sneaks in the world food crisis attributable to Putin to back up his opinion that England is starving when they have nothing to do with each other. So, Africans starving, England starving. A little slight of hand there. Is it Putin, is it the Tories, is it trickle down? It’s like he’s performing some sort of card trick.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

The relationship is the soaring cost of food and inflation.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

What relationship are you referring to?

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

Stopped reading when i read Richmond food bank, which i have seen first hand. These were all funded by the same trust and set up back in the 2000s. Did poverty not exist in the 20th century?

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

That doesn’t surprise me. Giles likes to spin a story.

Carol Jones
Carol Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Yes! and then find a way to blame Putin for it– I stopped reading

Alex 0
Alex 0
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

Also “more than 5000 supplies” over a year equates to about 100 people a week (some of whom presumably every week ), in a Borough of approx 200,000.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

It infuriates me no end when people go on about food bank usage increasing since the Tories took over when they first became a thing in the latter years of the last Labour government. Any society and area will have people who struggle financially, can’t prioritise properly or both and sometimes charity like this is the best alternative.

Katy Hibbert
Katy Hibbert
1 year ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

Also, as Tory MP Lee Anderson rightly said, these “poor” people won’t cook, even though they have plenty of time on their hands. There is plenty of cheap, healthy food if you cook it yourself. Anderson, who is an ex-miner and from a poor background, was villified by the Leftards for saying this. Of course, when Leftard “Jack” Monroe says they same thing, her fellow Leftards fawn over her.

Max Price
Max Price
1 year ago

So the author explains that it’s not the Tories fault? Confusing article to say the least. A strong argument can be made that neo liberalism is the root cause of the problem but it was not made here. With his talk of trickle down economics it almost seems like he was trying to link it to Truss’ tax cuts. Am I missing something. Am I drunker than I think I am?

j watson
j watson
1 year ago

Putting some of the broader morality issues to one side is not a key question – are the delays in receiving benefit payments that lead to reliance on foodbanks (at least temporarily) a deliberate policy to further incentivise people off welfare, or just a benefits system incompetency?
I would assume it’s both deliberate and accidental.
As regards whether it incentivises – we’ve c2m on in-work benefits so one might question what exactly is it incentivising?
In addition the fact that if one looks to get some re-training in order to get back into the workforce benefits are stopped – as then deemed unavailable for work – just seems one of the most ridiculous, inefficient and arguably vindictive components of our benefits system. To compare to Germany – you lose your job and social insurance pays you a proportion of your last salary as well as funds retraining. And we wonder why in the UK we have a low productivity economy!

Nick G
Nick G
1 year ago

Meanwhile in Germany : I assume this must caused by the wicked Tories as well?
“Last Thursday, July 14, the chairman of the federal food bank umbrella organization Tafel Deutschland, Jochen BrĂŒhl, warned that the food banks would soon no longer be able to cope with the onslaught. As a result of inflation, the pandemic and, since the beginning of the year, the effects of war, demand from people in need has skyrocketed. The number of customers has increased by half and reached a new record high, he said. According to BrĂŒhl, well over 2 million people affected by poverty are now taking advantage of free food services, more than ever before.”

Last edited 1 year ago by Nick G
Andrew Dean
Andrew Dean
1 year ago

I am in my late 70s. When asked by my grandchildren what big changes I have seen I reply that when I was young poor people were thin whereas now they are fat. My village primary school photograph of 1950 shows many of my fellow pupils in rags with matted hair and skin diseases. The girls were often without underwear. Giles should calm down.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Dean
JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago

Sorry Giles you really have not thought this one through. See Matthew Powells very thoughtful comment. Much more grasping of the problem

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
1 year ago

Left-wing religionist leaves inner London for a pleasing leafy suburb, (white flight, perhaps?) and is deeply offended by a food-bank and associated customers in his new habitat.

Welcome Giles, to the fruits of your labour, and that of your achingly fashionable rich “liberal” left travelling companions, over the last few years. Your response – to write yet another anti-Tory piece for this rag – is the best example of hypocritical cant that I have seen – even from you.

Enjoy your leafy suburb, and I do hope there aren’t too many burglaries and assaults in the environs of your new vicarage.

Last edited 1 year ago by Albireo Double
Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
1 year ago

Good article, but poverty, as a political issue, is not simple. Communities, in this country or in poorer countries, lift themselves out of poverty by providing goods and services for each other, as well as for other communities.

In poor countries, there have been stories, for years, about people handing out small loans or gifts, enabling the recipient to set up a little business and then go on to prosper.

In this country it is not so simple. For fifty years and more we have been a prosperous society with governments that have dispensed large sums to the poor. If money were the answer, we would have dealt with poverty by now. It’s more complex than that – understand budgeting must be part of it – but until we have a deeper understanding, we have to keep handing out money.

Part of the problem with deprived communities is that the people with get up and go have got up and gone, leaving the community deprived of the kind of people who could take the lead in helping them to thrive.

Rachel Bailie
Rachel Bailie
1 year ago

I started school in 2002 our school harvest provisions went to the nursing homes. They asked for sweets, biscuits, flowers to cheer up the residents. My brother started the same school in in 2013 they were asked for basic tins of stuff to feed the local community and had to be so careful in their wording due to the children in the school who were going to these food banks. It’s just a very sad but avoidable state of affairs.

The Terence
The Terence
1 year ago

Nurses use food banks a lot we are told. Nurses are very fat. Is this some sort of Murphy’s law? A few years ago my local priest told me that the parish food bank he ran was being abused by local scum but he had to keep it running as the liberal hand wringers would go into melt down if he dropped it. Poverty porn is a guilty pleasure of the middle classes and Giles Fraser is getting a hard on.

Kate Aashi
Kate Aashi
1 year ago

64% of the UK is overweight or obese, this is a much more of a health concern than hunger.

John Lammi
John Lammi
1 year ago

There is no one who advocates “trickle down economics”. And the author undoubtedly knows that.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 year ago

I live in a prosperous part of Essex and I helped to set up a food bank, which I managed for two years and I’m a card-carrying Conservative. Our food bank had a different clientele to most associated with the Trussell Trust: regular users were a rarity. Most made 2-3 visits because of an unexpected, severe problem. The food parcels helped them through it.
The food bank could respond quickly to need. Where there was a short-term problem we often cut out any involvement by the state. Where, more rarely, there was a longer-term problem we could be the bridge between need and UC assessments.
I can’t speak for all Tories, but I gave my time, not in spite of being a Conservative, but because I am a Conservative. Those who were members of the Labour Party who weighed-in I assumed did so because their love for their fellow citizens exceeded their envy of other fellow citizens. All the parties of the local councils supported us.
I sympathise with Tim Smith’s question below: why are food banks bad, but benefits good?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Moral compass? soooo like ‘ old tech”? Must be an app on the i fone?

Alan Robinson
Alan Robinson
1 year ago

It is only growth that will raise the living standards of the broad mass of people and allow us to fund foreign aid, welfare and so on.

Graeme Kemp
Graeme Kemp
1 year ago

I really hope there’s going to be a general election – soon. Time to get rid of the Conservatives.