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The head of the UK’s biggest food bank network has vowed to put them “out of business” and reverse a trend in which “sticking plaster” food charity handouts are increasingly normalised as a response to growing poverty and destitution.
The comments by Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, came as the charity reported a 47% rise in food parcels given out by its volunteers between April and September – reflecting an explosion in demand for food aid during the pandemic, including from “newly hungry” families who had fallen into hardship.
“We have to find better ways of supporting one another as a society than leaving people to rely on food charity,” said Revie in an interview with the Guardian. “It’s not just about ending food banks, it’s about finding an alternative to the need for mass distribution of charity food in the fifth wealthiest country in the world.”
The trust revealed that during the first six months of the pandemic it distributed 1.2m food parcels, of which 470,000 went to families with children. April was its busiest ever month, while the volume of food it handed out went up by 59% compared with the same time in 2019.
It said that despite record-breaking demand for help at its 1,400 food bank outlets, this was likely to be just the “tip of the iceberg” as many more people would have been helped by other community and welfare charities.
Revie paid tribute to the “unbelievable compassion” of the British public who donated to food banks during the pandemic and supported footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to provide school holiday food support for struggling families.
But she warned there was a danger that food banks, which could never be a comprehensive response to hunger, were “teetering on the brink” of being normalised in the UK as a response to poverty. More needed to be done by the state to prevent people becoming destitute in the first place, she said.
“Locking in the £20 uplift to universal credit and tax credits, for example, would significantly reduce the numbers coming to food banks in the next year. We need to say as a society ‘we are not going to allow our citizens to fall so far that they need a food bank.’”
The trust, in alliance with other anti-poverty campaigners, called for renewed investment in local welfare schemes and more generous national social security benefits, including the retention of the temporary £20 a week uplift to universal credit issued in April.
She praised food banks that had “moved heaven and earth” to cope with the extra demand from struggling families during the pandemic, despite food shortages early on. It was “astonishing they kept going” she said, but it was not sustainable or desirable that they shoulder this burden in the long term.
Reducing the need for food banks is at the heart of Trussell Trust’s new five-year strategy Hunger Free Future. It has seen its network grow from about 50 to around 1,400 over the past decade, largely in response to austerity cuts to the social security system, but it insists it now wants to reverse that expansion.
“People think food banks will always step in. We do, and we will stay as long as we have to, but it is a sticking plaster,” said Revie.
She added: “The Trussell Trust has grown 74% over the past five years. I would like to see demand fall [by the same amount] over the next five. We absolutely believe it is possible to end the need for food banks in the UK.”
Responding to the Trussell Trust mid-year figures, a government spokesperson said it was committed to protecting the vulnerable and ensuring “children and their families do not go hungry during this pandemic”.
“Our additional £400m of funding includes £170m to help families stay warm and well fed this winter, a further £16m to provide immediate support to frontline food aid charities and £220m Holiday Activities and Food programme.”
Sabine Goodwin, co-ordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, which represents hundreds of non-Trussell Trust food banks, said: “To slow down the entrenchment of food banking in UK we need reform of the national welfare system, and functioning local welfare assistance schemes in every local authority.”
Meanwhile, the pandemic has seen a marked increase in cooperation between local authorities and faith groups to provide support to vulnerable families.
A survey by the all-party parliamentary group on faith and society found 59% of councils have worked with church-based food banks, 24% have worked with mosque-based food banks, 11% with food banks based in Sikh Gurdwaras and 10% with food banks based in Hindu temples.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Food banks a ‘sticking plaster’ as UK demand skyrockets, warns charity head | Food banks