The Sad Reality Of Foodbanks

The number of donations per year, either in cash or tangible goods, given to clients has increased, with the number of people volunteering each year also rising. However, the rampant number of clients needing the Foodbank’s services has also seen a steady increase. It remains a great place to volunteer but has come under huge pressure with these growing numbers.

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash there were around 50 Foodbanks in operation throughout Britain during 2009/2010. The biggest provider of Foodbanks in Britain is the Trussell Trust Charity, which operates over 50% of Foodbanks, and during the 2009/2010 period gave out 41,000 Food Parcels in a single year. By comparison, in 2020 there are now around 2,000 Foodbanks in operation. According to the most recent statistics put out by the Trussell Trust, between the period of April – September 2019 they gave out 823,145 Food Parcels – which they reported as being their busiest period in their existence as a charity.

Graph of Trussell Trust’s number of Foodbank parcels given during each term

Clearly over time the demand for Foodbanks has increased and thus the number of Foodbanks has risen to meet this demand. This is hardly something that is unforeseen though. David Cameron’s government were the implementers of austerity.

During this, Cameron spoke about an ideal that he had, that the UK should transition to a more Japanese-styled society when it came to charity. The Japanese in comparison to the UK have a very small government-backed social safety net, with much of the work to help the poorest instead being done by charities. This transition as a positive thing, often promoting community spirit – but this also nicely fit into his message of austerity and less spending. In the early Cameron years, this was just a concept and might seem like an easy platitude. Now of course, Cameron himself is long gone from mainstream politics but this specific part of his legacy still lives on. The evidence shows that this has been exactly how things have played out – intentionally or unintentionally – on the government’s part.

A few years ago, an inquiry into Foodbank usage was commissioned by Parliament and published in 2015, and part of this report involved interviewing people who worked in Foodbanks across the country. Looking at just one Foodbank that was a part of this inquiry, such as Bradford Metropolitan Food Bank, you can see the stark difference that has developed over time.

Referring to their operations in 2006 – 2010 Bradford Metropolitan Food Bank stated in the inquiry:

“In the first few years we made up and gave out few bags, no more than 200 a year, and this was to support those who weren’t coping with family life, were ill, abandoned, addicted or with mental health problems, and the small number adjusting to unemployment and crisis, but since then there has been a strong structural change that has entrapped far larger numbers.”

The inquiry also uncovered that the provider gave out 600 food parcels in 2007; 2008 it was 700 and it increasing to 942 in 2010. The number since this inquiry has only increased.

So why has Foodbank usage increased so much?

In 2010, the Conservatives were elected into power, foodbank usage has shot up. According to the Trussell Trust, the latest statistics show that the most common reason for attending the Foodbank is having a low income, which accounts for 36.05% of clients. This is followed by benefit delays at 17.92% and benefits changes at 16.24%.

The reasons for these statistics being the way they are can often be traced back to government decisions. Some blame the minimum wage as being too low, others the return of zero hours contracts in regards to the reasons for low income.

The Trussell Trust themselves advocate for a head to toe renewal of Universal Credit – the benefits system in which applicants will usually be met with a 5 – 6 week wait before benefits are paid out. The Trussell Trust hopes that by abolishing this wait time, it will lead to a reduction in the statistics around benefits changes and benefits delays. This 5-6 week wait time often leads to people seeking charitable help according to multiple studies, such as one by the Royal Society of Arts:

thriving, striving or just about surviving, the RSA/Populus survey of more than 2,000 workers found that while about 30% of respondents said they lived comfortably, 40% said their finances were permanently precarious. The remaining 30% said they were not managing to get by.”

This means that in practice, 70% of workers have little to no saving and essentially live paycheck to paycheck. If an individual is in need of benefits imminently, they will have no money to sustain themselves for a few weeks, and will need to rely charitable help. Leading to the situation Foodbank is faced with now.

Recently, the government has implemented a scheme to address this by allowing some people to take an advance on their payments, but this has only led to a 3% reduction in clients coming to the Foodbank because of benefits delays, and this speaks to a far wider issue within the Universal Credit system. Regardless of the solution to this, political or not, the issue does lie with the Conservative government’s decisions.

The Foodbank of today is thankfully coping with the increased demands well, but when you see the rising number of clients coming into the Foodbank first-hand it’s hard not to wish things were different. Unlike many things in our world which can seem impossible to change, just about a decade ago Foodbank use was at a minimum, and I think it can be again with the right polices put into place. The UK is the 5th richest economy in the world and it’s a real shame that we aren’t doing more for those who most need the help – especially considering many other countries with small economies, like France or Norway, are doing far more for their very poorest.

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