Ex-homelessness tsar launches food appeal and urges 'Beveridge moment'

Dame Louise Casey makes plea as report shows 1 million people in UK struggle for food

Former government adviser Dame Louise Casey has urged Boris Johnson to deliver a “Beveridge moment” and overhaul welfare, as she launched an urgent appeal for public donations of food and money to get the poorest through winter.

Harking back to Sir William Beveridge’s 1942 report that led to the founding of the welfare state, Casey said an equivalent to the Sage expert panel of scientists advising on the response to Covid-19 was needed to tackle sharp rises in poverty and to “work out how the legacy of this pandemic isn’t the quadrupling of food banks”.

Casey, who until this summer advised the government on homelessness, launched a public appeal for food and cash donations for local food banks amid rising need that is expected to result in charitable organisations facing their busiest Christmas yet.

Casey’s appeal came as a survey by the centre-right thinktank the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) showed more than a million of the UK’s poorest people are regularly struggling to pay for food and are in “severe financial trouble”, and most do not believe politicians care about helping them.

Dame Louise Casey.
Dame Louise Casey. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP/PA Images

Independent food banks reported a doubling in demand over the summer, and have warned they are seeing another increase this winter.

“It’s absolutely incredible that we have food banks and I am launching a campaign asking people to donate basic things, but that’s where we are,” Casey told the Guardian, citing huge increases in the numbers of people on universal credit, which have almost doubled during the pandemic to 5.7 million people. “We have to be able to get these people through this winter and then plan the foundations of a new welfare state.”

She said the Covid Community Campaign would seek donations for local foodbanks, first across London and then later this week across other major cities. Money raised will then be distributed to the Trussell Trust, FareShare, Magic Breakfast and Social Bite and 20% of proceeds will go to charities in each participating council’s area.

“We need the best sticking plaster in place over the winter months, but then we have to have the Beveridge moment which isn’t about party politics but what the big challenges are in our country,” Casey said.

The CSJ study found that more than a third of people in the poorest households with annual incomes below £16,999 have occasionally struggled to pay for food, while a fifth find it a regular problem. A third also worry about losing their jobs in the near future, as the Covid-19 pandemic triggers unemployment levels that are predicted to rise to 7.5% by early next year, up from 4% at the start of 2020.

Only 29% of low earners said they believed the Conservatives cared about them, compared with 53% for Labour.

The findings were described as unacceptable by the thinktank. “We have more than enough resources, initiative and brainpower to go around and ensure those falling behind are cared for,” said its chief executive, Andy Cook. “It is an indictment on our current political discourse that a majority of Britain’s poorest do not believe either party will help them.”

Scotland’s independent food banks reported at least a doubling in the need for emergency food parcels compared with last year’s April to July figures. UK-wide, comparing May 2020 with May 2019, demand increased 177%, according to the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN).

In the six months from April to September this year, demand for help from the Trussell Trust, which runs the UK’s largest network of food banks, rose 47%, and it handed out more than 1.2m emergency food parcels in that period. It is expecting its busiest ever December.

The CSJ survey lays bare the vulnerabilities of the poorest people in the UK, as the economy contracts and already precarious household finances are tipped into crisis. Of the people surveyed, 37% said they were worried about losing their jobs in the near future and just over a third said they had been unable to pay a household bill since the beginning of the pandemic. Many have very little savings to act as a buffer. A quarter said they had less than £350 set aside in case of an emergency.


Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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