UK Food Banks and Billionaires at Record Levels

Half an image with UK currency in notes and another half with a food bank
Author: Samuel Beckingham
Updated: May 10, 2023
4 minutes read

In an age where the UK has more food banks than McDonald’s, and more people are joining The Sunday Times Rich List, the government has to ask itself if everything is going as it should. It’s well known that ministers are all for making the UK an attractive place to invest in a post-Brexit world, but is an increase in wealth disparity – even during a cost of living crisis – a measure of success?

According to data from The Trussell Trust, who operate over 1,200 food banks across the UK, more than 3 million emergency food parcels were given out by them last year, which was an increase of 37% from 2021 levels. Latest figures show an upwards trajectory of food bank use, up 120% from 5 years ago. Comparatively, there are at least 1,300 McDonald’s restaurants in the UK, and The Trussell Trust is just one provider of food banks.

Conservative MPs have typically been very out of touch with the poorest people. Jacob Rees-Mogg described an increase in food bank use as “rather uplifting” back in 2017, as he said it showed Britain’s compassionate side. Lee Anderson more recently believed food banks were on the rise because the public couldn’t budget or cook. The basic salary of an MP is £86,584, which is arguably easier to budget, especially considering MPs can also rely on expenses. The salary for anyone on minimum wage 23 or over is a mere £21,673.60.

Despite cost of living pressures making life harder and seeing almost ¾ of a million people use food banks for the first time last year, 13 years of a Conservative government has seen an astronomical increase in their usage. Back in 2010, only 60,000 food bank packages were handed out. Since then, a series of austerity policies have removed the social safety net preventing the use of food banks. Along with the implementation of a less generous and more punishing benefits system, food bank usage has only ever increased.

Across the same time frame, the gap between the poorest and richest in the UK has only worsened. The Sunday Times Rich List for 2022 saw six more billionaires enter the midst with a combined wealth of £653 billion. To put it into perspective, that’s enough to pay for King Charles’ £250 million coronation 2,612 times. While last year saw the biggest fortunes ever recorded in the list, Rishi Sunak and his wife joined the ranks of the wealthiest elite with a joint £730 million.

If the Prime Minister is in the ranks of the wealthiest people in the UK, are his priorities in lessening the effects of the cost of living crisis? Even when he filled the vacuum left by Liz Truss last year, he told people to judge him on his record and not his wealth. Since taking office in October, more and more financial decisions taken by his cabinet have seen households struggle and resort to food banks.

With political decisions – such as not overturning the ban on onshore wind farms – affecting the UK’s energy security and not helping the exorbitant cost of energy in the long term, what are the common people meant to do? Almost 1 million signatures were put to the petition for an immediate general election back in September, but no serving member of the government turned up to debate it.

Even the series of public sector strikes since January didn’t shift the government to immediate negotiations, or indeed to ending the disputes. Some strikes are still ongoing to this day. Perhaps the wealthy in power have simply been biding their time, knowing that those most affected by a loss of wages in real terms couldn’t afford more ongoing industrial action.