The Growth of Food Banks in Breadline Britain
The Government’s austerity measures are hitting the country hard. According to Trussell Trust, Britain’s leading food bank network, almost everyday sees emergency food parcels being given to parents who are going without meals to provide decent staple food for their children. In 2008, the Trust supplied food parcels to 28,000 people. Last year, the numbers increased to 128,000. Quality meals are handpicked from 1,225 tonnes of food donated by the public, schools, and businesses. The trust estimates that about half a million people will benefit from being recipients of food parcels by 2016. Trussell Trust started out modestly in 2004 with only one foodbank, which has now grown to a staggering 255. Figures have shown that two foodbanks on average have been opening up every week to accommodate clients, mostly working families going through difficult circumstances, due to low incomes or because they are on benefits.
A food bank box contains an appropriate amount of non-perishable food to last the recipient at least three days. The boxes come in two sizes, one for families and another for individuals, and usually contains an assortment of pasta, rice, tinned vegetables, fruit and fish, juice with good longevity, and milk. Customers can receive a maximum of three boxes before they are referred to Aid agencies such as Citizen’s Advice for further help and support, because oversubscribing on the the customers’ behalf would make the Trust’s model unsustainable. People presenting vouchers at foodbanks are at first referred to the Trust by health professionals, social workers, Jobcentre advisers or local charities.
Local authorities, from Labour to the Tories to the Welsh government, have now begun preparation to support food banks in order to cope with the growing crisis. The social fund, which provides emergency aid to needy people, will undergo cuts next year and so from April 2013 onwards, many councils will no longer be able to provide help, in the form of cash, to those who need it. Instead what they will be offering is help and guidance about the options available, such as referring clients to food banks and issuing electronic food vouchers.
With councils backing food banks, the government is officially choosing to neglect major issues cuts in welfare are creating because food banks do not exist to act as a support system for the government to avoid tackling issues. The predominant idea behind the food bank concept is about only helping bridge the gap in poverty that these cuts create. It is also worth noting that its not an encouraging sign that the food bank model which is so popular, and in existence for such a long time in the United States, have consistently shown that the government has become increasingly dependent on the food banks to avoid addressing fundamental issues in poverty, such as unemployment and low incomes.
Austerity does demand strict welfare cuts, some of which will hit the poorest of the society. Since, the government, as it has stated on several occasions, is whole-heartedly committed to the big society concept, the most plausible solution here would be for the Coalition to increase partnerships with the food banks and provide them with food parcels which they could later donate to those who need it, rather than simply pointing them towards the direction of food banks. An increase in the number of electronic vouchers available would also be a much more welcome change.
This temporary measure would see food banks work in co-operation with local councils strapped with cash they are unable to spend, and help the public cope better with welfare cuts. Although there is a ”benefits-dependant” risk involved here, it is worth mentioning that harsher measures have been put in place than before by reducing the public’s dependency on cash. In addition, the Welfare Reform Act, which will see 150 councils in England administering the spending, is set to decrease government spending, projected to be about half of the 2009-2010 crisis loans figure of £230m.