“There are many complex reasons why people go to food banks,” said UK prime minister Theresa May in a BBC interview on April 30. When prodded by the interviewer, she failed to elaborate on these “complex reasons”.

The response from commentators to Mrs May’s elusiveness was swift and damning.

“THE MAIN [REASON] IS POVERTY!”, tweeted veteran British journalist Paul Mason.

Prime minister May was being quizzed about food banks after the noticeable rise in public sector workers – particularly nurses – needing food aid. Onlookers, both online and in the traditional press, dryly pointed out that people visit food banks because they’re hungry and don’t have the money to buy enough food.

Whatever angle one takes, the vitriol directed at the prime minister after her recent BBC interview was as much about economic insecurity as it was about her inability to offer a concrete answer.

The Trussell Trust, a charity, estimates food bank use in London has risen by an eye-watering 1,642 percent since 2010. In 2016, the charity says it handed out 111,101 three-day emergency food parcels to Londoners.

“One nurse, a mother of two school-aged children, was referred [to a Trusell Trust food bank] after her shift pattern was changed and she had to find the money in her budget to cover additional childcare costs,” says Trussell Trust chief executive David McAuley.

“Another nurse needed a foodbank’s help to put food on the table when her husband left and she suddenly needed to stretch her one income to pay nursery fees, a mortgage, the family bills.”

In both cases, McAuley tells me, a foodbank offered emergency help when a “sudden unexpected change” left no room in the family budget for food.

Another unflattering figure for Britain’s Conservative government, in power since 2010, is the number of rough sleepers.

According to London-based non-profit Homeless Link, rough sleeping in the capital city has risen by 132 percent since 2010. The latest snapshot report, or one night count, shows 964 people sleeping on London’s streets.

Dave Martin, 55, tells me he’s never been to a food bank, but he has been homeless – suggesting Mrs May’s “complex reasons” might have some basis in fact.

“I mean, it’s only myself,” he says, when asked why he didn’t get food aid when he was sleeping on the streets.

Mr Martin has had three stints sleeping rough, the longest for “about four weeks”.

He now sells The Big Issue in London. We talk outside a large supermarket in Hammersmith, a middle-class inner-west suburb, where he aims to sell about ten magazines a day.

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Dave Martin says getting off the streets is no easy task. Bill Snaddon

The Big Issue in the UK sells for £2.50, with Dave earning £1.25 from each sale. Ten sales a day means £12.50 in the pocket, or about $16.

“It’s very hard to get off the street,” he says.

“When I first started sleeping rough, I just lay down on the concrete … and because of your bones, it starts to ache, you can’t get comfortable, and then a [nearby] rough sleeper said ‘get plenty of cardboard’. That did the trick.”

Dave continues: “I used to get all my stuff together in the morning and then just walk around. The third time I was homeless I was doing The Big Issue.”

After some time, a social worker helped him find accommodation. He now rents a flat in Tottenham, northern London.

“I get help with three quarters of the rent, a housing benefit,” he tells me.

Born in Derby, in the east Midlands of England, Dave dropped out of school at 15.

“After school, I went into what’s called a working men’s hostel. It’s a hostel but you look for work. They pay some of your rent. After that, I dunno, it’s a bit vague. I know I’ve travelled the country. Lived in many cities.”

He recalls his first day working with The Big Issue, though, ten or so years ago. It was on Victoria Street in central London, just south of Buckingham Palace and next to Westminster parliament.

It was “minus four degrees” and the “icy wind” was cutting through the air.

“Victoria Street is always a wind tunnel,” he says, noting that magazine sales go up in winter. He senses people are more “sympathetic” when it’s colder. “In summer, people go away.”

As Dave turns on his wireless – “an old radio, not a phone” he’s keen to point out – and starts listening to the soccer, the Derby supporter tells me he sells The Big Issue “not just to make the money, but to see people, my friends”.

On reducing homelessness, he thinks outreach work helps a lot. And he sees great potential in converting unused warehouses and properties into affordable housing.

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A rough sleeper amidst evening drinkers in Mayfair. Bill Snaddon

Rough sleeping in London mirrors what’s happening across the country.

Since 2010, the number of rough sleepers in England has increased by 133 percent, according to Homeless Link. In 2016, there were 4,134 people sleeping on the street.

Critics of the current government say the reason for rising homelessness and food aid are simple: welfare and benefit cuts, or “austerity measures”, introduced since the global financial crisis a decade ago.

“It is unacceptable that anyone should have to sleep on the streets,” says Caroline Bernard, head of policy at Homeless Link.

“And yet since 2010 the number of people sleeping rough continues to grow year on year to shocking levels. There are many reasons for this increase. However, the pressure on the resources of local authorities to help those facing homelessness, a fall in the amount of funding available for homelessness services, and a change to the welfare system over this period have all contributed to the issue.”

Supporters of the government will gloss over inconvenient food aid and homelessness figures, pointing instead to figures showing signs of economic growth.

Whatever angle one takes, the vitriol directed at the prime minister after her recent BBC interview was as much about economic insecurity as it was about her inability to offer a concrete answer.

Her vagueness is not unexpected, nor unusual for a politician – particularly in the middle of an election campaign.

Mrs May called the June 8 snap election a few weeks ago, ostensibly to get her own mandate and to make Brexit negotiations easier. In reality, the opposition Labour party is weak and (when the election was called) had little chance of striking a blow.

The prime minister smelt the political winds and judged this is the best time to hold an election if she wants to pick up parliamentary seats; thereby, she says, giving her more control over how Britain leaves the EU.

In July 2016, Theresa May took over from former leader David Cameron, who quit his post after taking the UK down the Brexit rabbit hole.

Cameron – and as it turned out on referendum day, 48 percent of the UK – wanted Britain stay in the European Union. His “remain” side lost, so Cameron quit. Britain is now trying to extradite itself from the EU. A complex, uncertain future awaits.

Notwithstanding a late surge of support for opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, as indicated by quickly narrowing poll numbers, common wisdom still suggests a comfortable – but far from commanding – victory for May’s Conservative party on June 8.

uk election 2017

Predicting the result, however, is far from easy. Some estimates show Mrs May winning by 13 percent, others show her scraping over the line by 2 percent.

Also difficult — for whoever leads after June 8 — will be reducing the demand for food aid and skyrocketing levels of rough sleeping.

As Dave Martin says, part of the answer is simple: “more affordable housing”.

Top photo: A homeless sits amidst the shoppers on Oxford Street, London. Bill Snaddon