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Austerity — the backdrop to Britain's 'Brexit election'

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

SLOUGH, United Kingdom (AFP) — As record numbers of Britons are forced to use food banks and homelessness soars, for many people rampant poverty, not Brexit, is the main issue in next week's general election.

In Slough, west of London and just four miles (6.4 kilometres) from Queen Elizabeth II's opulent Windsor Castle residence, ex-drug addict John unwraps Christmas chocolates.

“Without these people, we wouldn't be able to eat so... people like us couldn't really exist,” he told AFP at a food bank operating out of a Baptist church near a sex shop.

Anti-hunger campaigners the Trussell Trust, which runs the facility and more than 1,200 food banks like it, handed out a record 823,145 emergency parcels — which each comprise food for three days — in the six months to September.

That was the busiest half-year since the organisation was created in 1997 and marked a 23-per cent surge from the same period of 2018.

In Slough, a large industrial town of 162,000 people best known in recent years as the drab setting for comedian Ricky Gervais' cult comedy “The Office”, the increase was 29 per cent.

The jump in demand was partly from the working poor struggling to make ends meet.

As polls approach next Thursday, Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the main Opposition Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn have both vowed to address glaring inequality.

But more than a decade after the global financial crisis that sparked a vicious worldwide recession, many cities, towns and villages across Britain have yet to recover from harsh austerity.



“Slough is in such a bad state,” said John, who declined to give his real name.

“This place is full of poverty and where there's poverty there's drugs, and where there's drugs there's going to be addicts, and where there's addicts there's going to be burglaries...

“What I find ridiculous is no [politician] is speaking about the main issues which are mental health and poverty and drugs addiction ... within communities that are receiving less money.”

Austerity-driven changes to the welfare system have hit the poorest the hardest over the last decade, campaigners argue.