The Rise And Rise Of Food Poverty in The UK

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The Rise and Rise of Food Poverty in the UK
On Monday 8th December, a UK All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into the spread of hunger and food poverty in the UK published its report entitled, “Feeding Britain”. It described a growing demand for emergency food assistance amongst the UK population, sometimes increasing dramatically, as well as a growth in those turning to food banks to feed their families due to rising poverty amongst the society. According to the report, 4 million people in the country are at risk of going hungry, 500,000 children live in families that cannot afford to feed them, and 3.5 million adults cannot afford to eat properly.
The report stated, “Too many people living in low-income households often face the choice of putting money in the gas meter or food on the table.” The inquiry found that since the establishment of the Trussell Trust Charity in 2004, which is the largest food bank provider in the UK, the numbers of food assistance providers have grown to at least 1,500, including 800 food banks. The 420 Trussell Trust food banks alone provided help to around 913,000 people in 2013/14, up from around 129,000 in 2011/12, and the charity is opening 3 new food banks a week. The cause of this rise in food poverty has been attributed to squeezes on income, rising living costs due to high inflation, government welfare cuts and sanctions, and excessive utility bills such as for gas and electricity. According to the report authors, many families are so desperate to avoid being evicted from their homes due to rent arrears or have their gas or electricity cut off that they go without food or turn to food banks for help.

It is utterly appalling that in a wealthy society such as the UK, where the government has the capacity to bail out financial institutions with billions of pounds; and where millions are paid out as bonuses to rich bankers; and where just this month the government announced a £15 billion package for road improvements, that millions of its citizens are deprived of adequate amounts of food to ensure their sustenance and good health. According to some experts, hunger in Britain is becoming a “public health emergency”. Scientists and public health doctors have also described a large rise in hospital admissions from malnutrition since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008. This has been attributed to a lack of access to nutritious foods due to poverty. They have stated that malnutrition cases have doubled since 2008/9. The children’s charity, Kids Company, also describe a “silent epidemic of hunger” amongst young people in the UK.

A famous quote reads, “The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members”. Through their utter negligence in taking care of the most vulnerable of their citizens, states such as the UK and the US which also suffers from abysmal levels of food poverty have proved loud and clear the complete failure of their capitalist system to manage the affairs of mankind in a just and humane manner. It is blatantly clear that this flawed system lacks the capacity and the will to both prevent and treat poverty. Its policies instead have concentrated wealth in the hands of the few while impoverishing the masses.

Its host of failed free-market principles, such as allowing the privatisation of natural resources have sucked the finances of populations dry. Millions of ordinary citizens have been held at ransom by multi-billion gas, electricity and water companies in exchange for access to vital human necessities. These are commodities that should rightly be publically owned assets to ensure all gain fairly from their benefits. Despite all this, advocates of the capitalist system, including Western governments continue to deceptively promote their toxic capitalist financial models globally as the best way to manage the economy of nations, regardless of the manifest destructive impact it has had upon societies. They also see it fit to embrace the role of self-appointed saviours of the world economy, lecturing states globally, including in the Muslim world how to run their finances despite having revealed themselves as clueless in how to fight poverty within their own lands.

In addition, the capitalist system has nurtured capitalist mindsets amongst those who govern such states, who do not view themselves as caretakers responsible for serving the people. They rather view running government like running a business, disregarding the human cost of their cuts and policies, and prioritising securing the interests of the rich and powerful over the poor and weak. They have proved themselves out of touch and insensitive to the difficulties and hardships of those they govern. For example, during the launch of the “Feeding Britain” report, comments from Baroness Jenkins, a Conservative peer and a member of the inquiry caused outrage. She stated that the poor were going hungry because they did not know how to cook. How is it ever possible for those with such capitalist and aloof mentalities to ever sincerely take care of the needs of their people?

Indeed, the approach of such capitalist mindsets has been to blame the poor for their own financial hardships in order to cynically divert attention from the clear failings of their own capitalist ideology and system. Iain Duncan Smith for example, Work and Pensions Secretary, stated that people are going to food banks because they get divorced, ill or addicted to drugs and that it was “ridiculous” to blame the government. Lord Nash, an education minister also commented in relation to the rise of food poverty that the poor required more education in managing their money. These laughable suggestions that illness, or inadequate cooking or budgeting skills of the poor are at fault for the ever-growing state of poverty afflicting the general society, simply re-enforces the fact that the capitalist system and its advocates are at a complete loss as to how to distribute wealth fairly amongst their people.

The world surely needs a new model of governance to look to for how to effectively and justly run the economy of a state in a manner that ensures the needs of all citizens are met adequately, humanely, and fairly. The Islamic economic system of the Khilafah offers this alternative model. It embraces sound economic policies and laws that not only ensure the fair distribution of wealth to prevent and solve widespread poverty but have the ability to secure prosperity for its people, enabling them to acquire luxuries. Its prohibition of interest, monopolies, the hoarding of wealth, and the privatisation of natural resources as well as its implementation of zakat and a low-taxation system are just some of the Islamic economic principles applied under the Khilafah that provide a time-tested approach to achieving all this.

During the Khilafah of Umar bin Abdul Aziz for example, it is narrated that the Khalifah once wrote to his official in Iraq, Abdul Hameed ibn Abdur-Rahman telling him to pay the people their dues. ‘Abdul-Hameed wrote back to him saying, “I have paid the people their dues and there is still money in the Bayt al-Mal (the central treasury).” Then Umar wrote telling him to look for everyone who had borrowed money and to pay off his debts. Abdul-Hameed wrote back to him, “I have paid off their debts, and there is still money in the Bayt al-mal”. Umar then told him to look for every single man who had no money but wanted to get married and to arrange his marriage and pay his mahr (dowry). Abdul-Hameed wrote back to him saying, “I have married off every single man I could find, and there is still money in the Bayt al-Mal of the Muslims.” Umar then told him to look for everyone who owed the Kharaj (the land tax) and needed help to cultivate his land, and to lend him whatever was needed to help him do that.

The implementation of the Islamic economic system under the Khilafah therefore brought to fruition the glad tidings of the Prophet (saw) who said,
«يَأْتيَنَّ عَلَى النَّاسِ زَمَانٌ ، يَطُوفُ الرَّجُلُ فِيهِ بِالصَّدَقَةِ مِنَ الذَّهَبِ ، ثُمَّ لَا يَجِدُ أَحَدًا يَأْخُذُهَا مِنْهُ»
There will come a time when a man will go around with gold to give in charity and he will not find anyone to take it from him.”

Furthermore, Islam nurtures and obliges a mentality within rulers of being guardians, caretakers, and servants of the people, carrying a great sense of accountability towards their citizens, especially the poor, oppressed and vulnerable. Rather than blaming the impoverished for their own financial hardships, Islam obliges the state to provide for them adequately and empower them with the means to improve their financial status.

The Prophet (saw) said,
«من حقّ الولد على والده ثلاثة: يحسن اسمه، ويعلّمه الكتابة ويزوّجه إذا بلغ»
The son of man has no better right than that he would have a house wherein he may live, a piece of cloth by which he can hide his nakedness, a piece of bread and some water.”

He (saw) also said,
«أَيُّمَا أَهْلِ عِرْصَةٍ بَاتَ فِيهُمُ امْرُؤٌ جَائِعٌ، فَقَدْ بَرِئَتْ مِنْهُمْ ذِمَّةُ اللَّهِ»
Any community, whosoever they are, if a person among them became hungry, they will be removed from the protection of Allah the Blessed, the Supreme.”

He (saw) also said,
«ما من أمير يلي أمر المسلمين ثم لا يجهد لهم وينصح إلا لم يدخل الجنة معهم»
A ruler who, having control over the affairs of the Muslims, does not strive diligently for their betterment and does not serve them sincerely, will not enter Jannah with them.”

It was this immense sense of accountability generated by the Islamic belief that shaped the virtuous and admirable behaviour of great rulers of Islam such as Umar bin Al-Khattab (ra). It was narrated for example that the Governor of Kufa once visited Khalifah Umar (ra) while he was taking his meals that comprised of barley bread and olive oil. The governor said, “Amirul Momineen (Commander of the Faithful) enough wheat is produced in your dominions, why do you not take wheat bread?” The Khalifah asked him in a melancholy tone, “Do you think that wheat is available to each and every person inhabiting my vast dominions?” The Governor replied, “No.” Umar then said, “Then how can I take wheat bread unless it is available to all my people?”

The governments of the Muslim world having embraced capitalism have followed the same dark path of the Western states, plunging the masses of the region into dire poverty and financial hardship. Yet despite this, the Muslim rulers continue to ludicrously look to the advice, policies, and economic models of capitalist institutions such as the IMF and World Bank to solve their financial woes. Surely the economic morass and ever-rising poverty afflicting the Western nations should be proof enough that this man-made system offers no solutions to the problems affecting the Muslim world – economic or otherwise. Rather, it is returning to the System of Allah that alone holds the key to lifting the poverty and financial oppression of the region’s people.

﴿وَضَرَبَ اللَّـهُ مَثَلًا قَرْيَةً كَانَتْ آمِنَةً مُّطْمَئِنَّةً يَأْتِيهَا رِزْقُهَا رَغَدًا مِّن كُلِّ مَكَانٍ فَكَفَرَتْ بِأَنْعُمِ اللَّـهِ فَأَذَاقَهَا اللَّـهُ لِبَاسَ الْجُوعِ وَالْخَوْفِ بِمَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ﴾
 “And Allah puts forward the example of a town that dwelt secure and well-contented: its provision coming to it in abundance from every place, but it (its people) became ungrateful to the Favours of Allah. So Allah made it taste the utmost degree of hunger and fear, because of that (evil) which they (its people) used to do.” [TMQ An-Nahl: 112]

Written for The Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir by
Dr. Nazreen Nawaz
Member of the Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir