More people than ever use food banks in Britain today – and I’m one of them

More people than ever use food banks in Britain today – and I’m one of them

As the Trussell Trust reveals that food bank usage is at record levels one user writes a first hand account of her experiences using one:

My designated food bank operates out of a nearby church and I feel a deep sense of shame and anxiety on the way there. I worry that someone I know locally will stop to chat and I will be exposed as broke and dependent on charity.

The food bank volunteers, however, are kind and solicitous. They introduce themselves, shake my hand, and invite me to sit in chairs thoughtfully grouped at conversational angles. I am not interrogated and nobody towers over me; I am grateful for the eye contact and empathy I receive in response to my tale of benefit delays, impoverishment and worries about the rent. I am offered tea, cake and cheerful conversation in the most welcoming tradition of the church. It feels as though the whole process has been carefully worked out in order to preserve my dignity and I am moved by this tenderness.

 

As I unpack my groceries, I am deeply grateful that there are good citizens out there who have a bit to spare. I am also deeply angry that it is up to the churches and charities to plug the gaps left by a welfare state that seems to be creaking under sustained ideological pressure in one of the world’s richest countries. I feel guilty that my poverty is nothing compared to the suffering of those in developing nations or walking the roads of hostile Europe seeking refuge from war. And I am thankful that I have enough to eat for a while longer and that I will live to fight another day.

 

Supermarkets donate food to charities

Supermarkets donate food to charities

Supermarkets in France have been banned from throwing away or spoiling unsold food by law.  The stores are now required to donate unwanted food to charities and food banks.

To stop foragers, some supermarkets have poured bleach over the discarded food or storing binned food in locked warehouses.

Donation-box-webCourbevoie councillor Arash Derambarsh had started a petition to the French senate that the supermarkets should support their local food banks.  This law was voted unanimously by the French senate and will apply to any supermarket with a footprint of 400 square metres or larger.

I wish that this campaign would spread further afield.  If you’re in the UK, check out the brand new scheme FareShare FoodCloud to be piloted in Tesco stores to send unsold food that can be used to charities rather than be wasted.  We’ve been part of the pilot in the New Forest and it’s been great to be able to use some of the food that previously would have been thrown away with children and young people in our local community.

 

 

Research into local foodbanks (Hampshire, Portsmouth & Southampton)

Between a rock and a hard place - The Bill Sargent Trust

There are now at least 20 food banks in the Hampshire area, including some of the wealthiest parts of the county. They cover rural and urban locations, with approximately 50% affiliated to the Trussel Trust.

The research commissioned by the Bill Sargent Trust reinforced the findings of national research. Users generally go to food banks only when other options have been exhausted, and often feel shame and embarrassment about having to ask for help. They are living ‘on the edge’ and many have multiple problems including physical disabilities, illnesses, and mental health problems.

What food banks consistently offer, as well as emergency help, is a listening ear and a generous and compassionate response. This is sometimes in stark contrast to users’ experiences of statutory services. Food bank users are often surprised and pleased to be treated with respect and sensitivity.

The report raises important questions for the future that our local food bank organisers and volunteers will need to consider.  You can download the full Report here, and the Executive Summary here.

Archbishop John Sentamu criticises UK food poverty

John Sentamu

Archbishop John Sentamu in a speech at General Synod has called for “more equitable, more caring world” and questioned the effects of government’s welfare reforms:

In a long and often angry address to the Church of England general synod on Tuesday, John Sentamu said static salaries and rising prices had left nine million people living below the breadline at a time when the chief executives of the UK’s 100 biggest companies were earning on average £4.3m – 160 times the average national wage.

Sentamu, who chairs the Living Wage Commission, said politicians needed to stop referring to “hard-working” families and recognise that they were instead “hard-pressed” families struggling to survive despite their best efforts.

“Once upon a time you couldn’t really be living in poverty if you had a regular income,” he said. “You could find yourself on a low income, yes. But that is not longer so. You can be in work and still live in poverty.”

Reports of malnutrition and food poverty in Yorkshire “disgrace us all, leaving a dark stain on our consciences”, he said. “How can it be that last year more than 27,000 people were diagnosed as suffering from malnutrition in Leeds – not Lesotho, not Liberia, not Lusaka but Leeds?”

The effects of the government’s welfare reforms, Sentamu said, were “beginning to bite – with reductions in housing benefit for so-called under-occupation of social housing, the cap on benefits for workless householders and single parents, and the gradual replacement of the disability living allowance with a personal independence payment”.

“This is the new reality,” he said, “Food banks aren’t going to go away any time soon. Prices are rising more than three times faster than wages. This has been going on for 10 years now. And for people slipping into poverty, the reality is much harsher.”

If governments were powerless to do much more than “tinker” with the current economic trends, he added, the church would find itself doing even more.

Reflecting on Christianity’s long commitment to fighting poverty – from Saint Francis of Assisi to John Wesley, and from Gustavo Gutiérrez, the Peruvian priest and father of liberation theology, to the current pope – Sentamu said the Church of England had once again found itself compelled to speak up for the poor, and urged Anglicans to follow the example of the architects of the welfare state.

“They had a clear vision as to how things could be different,” he said. “In part, they were also tapping into the spirit of the immediate postwar years in which there was a great hunger to rebuild a more equitable, more caring world. It is that vision which we need to recapture today, but remoulded in a way which is realistic for the circumstances we face now.”

Poverty, the archbishop concluded, was “costly, wasteful and indeed very risky”. He said: “We in the church must make the argument that losing human potential at a time when we need all the capacity we can gather is hugely wasteful; that paying people below the level required for subsistence fractures the social contract and insurance, and that this is risky.”

Councillor in attack on food bank

Councillor Chris Steward

A senior York politician has sparked a furious row by saying there is no real poverty in Britain and people should not donate to food banks.

Chris Steward, a Conservative councillor, said living standards had surged, that there was no need for food banks, that they were an insult to starving people around the world, and that donating to them allowed recipients to spend more money on alcohol and cigarettes.

But his comments have been condemned by political opponents and The Trussell Trust, which runs 275 banks nationwide.  Chris Mould, the charity’s executive chairman, said more than 10,000 professionals nationwide were referring people to food banks and said: “He is making totally inappropriate assertions which I challenge him to back up with proper evidence.”

Coun Steward said on twitter that it insulted those in poverty to claim it existed in the UK. Asked to elaborate, he said Britain had relative poverty, like every country, but not absolute poverty.

He said:

“We have lots of poor people, but living standards have surged over the years. There is certainly no need for food banks; no-one in the UK is starving and I think food banks insult the one billion in the world that go to bed hungry every day and ignore the fact a child dies of hunger every three seconds.”

“The fact some give food to food banks, merely enables people who can’t budget (an issue where schools should do much more and I have said the council should) or don’t want to, to have more money to spend on alcohol, cigarettes etc.”

Mr Mould said Coun Steward was “poorly informed” and said living standards for people on low incomes had declined in recent years, with heating costs rising by 65 per cent in five years and the cost of basic food rising by’ 35 per cent. He said it was stereotyping to say those on low incomes were using money unwisely, saying there were many reasons why people found themselves in crisis.

Chris Mould said:

“He says there is no need for food banks; I am astonished by his assertion. What does he know? Where is his evidence? More than 10,000 front-line professionals, week in week out, are referring people they are trying to help to food banks.  They are seeing people from Cornwall to Inverness, York to Liverpool, and in increasing numbers they are referring people to food banks.  I am talking from an evidence-base of 10,000 care professionals who would argue with him. It is astonishing he would make an assertion like that.”

food bank

Mr Mould said nobody suggested people should not be distressed or outraged by unnecessary hunger elsewhere in the world, but said:

“It is clear that people in the UK who we meet have been going without meals when they arrive at food banks. They are going to bed hungry too. We are one of the richest countries in the world, but one of the most unequal in terms of income distribution in Europe.”

I found it amazing in this period of recession where most weeks there are major news articles on increases in poverty in the UK that a local politician would go as far to state there is no need for food banks.  As someone who has worked with young people and families for nearly a decade, I’ve helped them access food banks many times – they are incredibly valuable local tools.

What do you think?  Was Councillor Steward right to say we don’t need food banks?

———————– UPDATE ———————–

The York Press are now reporting that:

The York councillor who sparked an angry backlash by saying food banks were not needed has said he will visit one to see how they work.

Chris Steward, chairman of York Conservatives and councillor for Rural West York, made the offer after he came under fire for comments revealed in The Press on Thursday. Coun Steward claimed there was no real poverty in the UK.

He has since said on twitter that he would be happy to visit a food bank to work a shift.

York Labour councillor Dafydd Williams also yesterday invited Coun Steward to visit the York food bank at Gateway Church in Acomb, and called the councillor’s comments “ill-informed”. Coun Steward declined to add to his comments on twitter when contacted by The Press.