The UK is the world’s sixth largest economy. Yet now, with almost a decade of Tory austerity behind us, 1 in 6 parents have gone without food to feed their families and 4 million children are living in poverty. 

 

Cast your mind back a few years ago, pre-2010 … foodbanks were relatively unheard of. The very notion of families in this country being without the money to feed themselves was, well, unbelievable. Victorian levels of poverty and depravity, have been long gone.

In the last year alone, The Trussell Trust has given out more than 1 million emergency food parcels. The 420-strong network doesn’t even represent half of all the foodbanks in the UK.

This is where we’re at. How low we’ve sunk. And it’s this that foodbank worker turned playwright, Tara Osman, explores in her debut play Food Bank As It Is.

I had the pleasure (not exactly the right word I suppose) of watching the play on a Saturday night at the Sands Films Studios in Rotherhithe.

Whilst probable election victor Theresa May refers to the ‘complex reasons’ that people, including nurses, have come to rely on foodbanks; it is clear that poverty is the only driver.

Although not explored directly in the play, what’s most shocking is the fact that more than half of all foodbank users are actually in-work.

Food Bank As It Is, an independently-produced and staged production, recounts a number of real-life, personal stories about the growing number of people in the UK who have, tragically, become reliant on foodbanks to survive.

In particular, Osman’s script highlights how benefit sanctions and delays have had a profoundly catastrophic impact upon people’s lives. In effect, robbing them of their dignity, their ability to feed themselves … and sometimes, even their lives.

Between December 2011 and February 2014, over 2,000 people died soon after their ESA (Employment Support Allowance) was stopped.

Indeed, during the Q&A after the play, Tara recounted a rather horrifying tale in which she visited a man at his home after his benefits had been cut abruptly. This man, it turned out, had some flesh-eating disease coating his flat in the stench of rotting flesh, and yet had been declared ‘fit for work’ all the same.

Thatcherite cultist or not, there’s no excuse on Earth for such cruelty.

Of course, credit must be given to both the cast and production team for putting on such an ambitious, socially-conscious production. The writing, acting and staging is designed more to make a political point as opposed to constructing a traditional, narrative-driven story. This, ultimately, is both a positive and negative.

Regardless, there’s no denying that the play is a powerful bombardment of the senses. An emotionally-packed piece of true, human horror.

Speaking about the play, Tara said:

‘I was moved to start writing this play several months into my job as a foodbank support worker, and subsequently manager, of a London foodbank. I was becoming increasingly aware that many people, including countless children, are going hungry because the welfare benefits system is not fit for purpose.

‘Sanctions, delays in making payments, decisions to stop payments without notification and delays in appeals being heard, all mean that people are left for weeks and often months with no income. That can mean no money for food, heating, lighting and rent.

‘The presence of children or vulnerable adults in a household makes absolutely no difference. I have met people who haven’t eaten for days; mothers who are living on watery coffee to keep themselves going day-by-day whilst giving their children the small amount of food they can afford; whole families sitting in the dark and heating their food with candles; many, many people who have worked hard all their lives who break down in tears when describing the shame and humiliation they feel at finding themselves in this position.

‘I have written this play because I believe that what is happening to these people and therefore us, is morally unacceptable and needs to be challenged, and challenged again until it stops’.

After the curtains went up, a man in the audience — a brave Tory voter perhaps — declared that he couldn’t believe that the government were aware of the harm they were causing.

‘I can’t believe the government would ever knowingly stop benefits for a man with a flesh-eating disease’, he said. Nobody can be that vindictive. That evil. … Right?

Sadly, I suspect the Tories know all too well what they are doing.

Food Bank As It Is will be playing at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden for one night only on Wednesday May 24, 2017 at 7pm.