Food for Thought: Rising food banks

Food banks offer food for thought in this week's blog, looking at the current statistics around food banks and their usage, as well as experience volunteering for the Trussell Trust.

Kate Gosschalk

In the past few weeks, foodbanks have hit the headlines. The reason for this: Jacob Rees-Mogg’s recent speech on foodbanks in which he accredits the rise in numbers to growing awareness. He states that “to have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens, I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are”. Garry Lemon of the Trussell Trust argues that whilst it is uplifting, “food banks are an emergency service” and they “cannot solve structural problems alone”.[1]

The facts:

  • Currently 2000 foodbanks operate in the UK helping those who are financially vulnerable[2]
  • ½ of households using food banks include someone with a disability
  • Lone parents are particularly vulnerable
  • 2/3 of users are on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • 1/3 of users are waiting on a benefit application[3]

Foodbanks and foodbank users are on the rise; in 2016-2017 the Trussell Trust (UK) gave out 1,182,954 3 day emergency supplies.[4] This growing need for foodbanks is deeply saddening in such a wealthy country. This view was shared by many when I collected for the Trussell Trust Foodbank outside our local co-op a fortnight ago. Standing in our green bibs behind a table complete with tinned goods, we made awkward eye contact with various shoppers whilst asking (politely - of course) for “food donations?”, handing our shopping lists of tinned goods, toiletries and pasta (amongst others). Here are the seven main types of people we encountered:

The angry ones: angry at the system, the government and the fact that foodbanks exist. These people engaged in healthy conversation before donating some food items. And maybe some tampons!

The clever ones: they know a lot more than you do and aren’t afraid to get stuck in and even rearrange the food on your display table…

The empathetic ones: those who had previously used food banks and felt very empathetic towards the cause. These people bought the most food items and there was a real sense of ‘giving back’.

The grateful ones: whilst fumbling for change, some people expressed thanks for what we were doing. I felt slightly undeserving of this considering it was my first time helping out, but it was greatly appreciated nonetheless.

The awkward ones: everyone’s been there. You’re slightly scared of getting dragged into a conversation by the cheery charity people so you stick your head down and dash inside. Or mutter a quick sorry. Then they’re off.

The sorry ones: they’re sorry, so so sorry that they can’t donate because they have no money on them. They’re awkward and sorry. Did I say sorry…?

The keen ones: the next generation of volunteers signing up on the spot. Thank you – we love you!

We live in a society of inequality and contradictions; whilst it is incredible that foodbanks can provide help for so many, there shouldn’t be such a crippling need for them. The issue needs to be addressed at the core and this requires government action. The current situation needs to change, and it needs to change fast.

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