Citizens Advice reported last week that enquiries made to food banks had increased by an average of 78% in the last six months. Nicky Stubbs takes a look at their place in modern day Britain.
It is slightly worrying that in a 21st century democracy, some citizens are forced to depend on the generosity of others to survive. The volume of enquiries being made to the Trussell Trust, which provides support to 375 food banks across the UK, is on the up, and some within the ranks of the altruists providing support to those in need say that the trend is likely to continue.
But just how much of a problem is this becoming for families, and exactly who is being affected?
Molly Hodson of the Trussell Trust said that of all those being supported by food banks in the UK, 30% were children, and of the adults being supported, 50% were in employment.
The Rev Mick Neal, who is on the steering group which aims to set up food banks across Barnsley, south Yorkshire, says that working families are being forced into food poverty as a result of the rising cost of living.
“More and more families are struggling to make ends meet and need support. But these problems are not only being faced by families on benefits; more and more working families are simply being stretched to the limits”, he explains.
“We aim to set up an initial model that works in September. This will comprise of a hub, where all of the donated food is collected and stored. We will then have what are known as spokes, which are the distribution centres. They will be open for two hours a week and manned by volunteers who will be trained in signposting.”
Neal adds that those using the service would be encouraged to contact the right agencies in order to get to the root of their problems.
“We need to be asking, ‘How did you end up in this place?’ Just giving out food parcels doesn’t solve the problem and we’re very determined that we’re not building dependency.
“This is a community response to a community problem.”
The problem however, is not one exclusive to this Barnsley community. Food banks are being opened up and down the UK, and although the pieces are being picked up on a local level, many argue that current national government policies are at the root of the issue.
With the introduction of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ back in April, families are finding it much more difficult to balance the books and, in order to minimise the risk of falling into the red, are prioritising paying rising bills over putting food on the table.
Neal says that with the introduction of the universal benefits system in October, the problem is likely to get worse, and he expects even more working families to turn to the generosity of their peers to get by each month.
He adds that these measures are “a practical response to the problem without judgement about the cause.”
Government policies such as cuts to the benefits system are aggravating the situation, and for the first time, we are seeing the emergence of a working poor. People are simply not seeing their wages rising in line with the rate of inflation, and it is the kindness of altruism that is attempting to fill the gap.
Sustainability is not just about the environment and economics; people are a major part of the picture.
But whatever the cause of this mismatch, the harsh reality of the problem is that it is becoming much more difficult for families to gain access to a right that every human being on the planet should have: food.