It’s a statistic I’ve mentioned before: there are more foodbanks across the UK than branches of McDonald’s—and we all know how many of them there are.
Such is the struggle against price increases and rising inflation, many people who have never visited a food bank before are finding themselves waiting in line for this kind of support. And it’s not just people in receipt of benefits, or exclusively the poor and vulnerable; plenty of those queuing up for provisions are people who are working full-time and who are still struggling to afford food after they’ve paid their rent and bills.
The gap between rich and poor is becoming (immorally, in my opinion) wider and wider. The class system that the World Wars managed to decimate is not just in existence, it’s positively thriving. The ‘haves’ couldn’t give a monkeys about the ‘have-nots’, and our sense of community (celebrated during the early days of the pandemic) is only strong in certain areas across the UK. It’s certainly not apparent everywhere.
Over the years, many good causes have stepped in to fill gaps in frontline services; however, their help and support isn’t infinite. The problem on the horizon is that there may simply come a time when even charities can’t provide the support the government should be giving to those in need.
Fareshare, the organisation that collects and distributes surplus food, has much less food to work with. It’s not just the extra demand that’s playing havoc with their supplies, due to the strain on people’s finances, but a drop in supply, too. Reports suggest that Fareshare currently has 200 tonnes less food to distribute amongst the charities it works with ‘due to global shortages’. Food donations within supermarkets have also dried up, due to shoppers having to watch their pennies more closely. And, of the stock that is available, it would be difficult to make a meal from it.
Supplies of cheese, potatoes, some species of fish, and cooking oil, have been dwindling for months, which has proved bad news for fish and chip shops in particular. There’s lots of speculation as to why these shortages have occurred, with Brexit and the war in Ukraine cited as two reasons.
So, if employers and/or the government aren’t ensuring people have enough money to cover their basic needs, and if charities don’t have the resources to be able to help either, then what?
In Hull, for example, statistics show that one in every ten people experiences hunger. Food insecurity, like fuel poverty, is a very real situation affecting people who are already struggling. Let’s be real here, I can’t find any news reports that say caviar and champagne are becoming scarce; in fact, I found a report that said there’s such an overstock of champagne at the moment that sales of the drink have slumped and prices have been slashed!
If staples such as bread and potatoes are the items we can’t get hold of, the poorer sections of our society will suffer far more than those with a few pounds more in their pockets.
So, what’s the answer?
If only I knew. As someone who helps charities and voluntary groups secure funding, I can confirm that there’s still money out there. That said, it’s slowly diminishing, and there are many more charities chasing it. Public donations are less than in previous years and, given that this stems from a statistic of the first quarter of 2021, this is likely to have dropped further by now. Will funding peter out altogether, from all avenues? Will the only food we eat come from what we can grow in our own garden plots? Will we eventually stay in bed all day because we can’t afford to heat our homes?
These exploratory outcomes may seem dramatic and drastic, but as each month of this cost-of-living crisis unfolds, they draw nearer. As someone who has worked with a beneficiary of Fareshare for years, I’ve seen first-hand the problem with supplies. First, it was the variety of surplus food that was affected…huge influxes of one or two types of foodstuffs, but not much of the ingredients needed to make a typical meal from them.
More recently, I have seen significant scarcity and further randomness to the food delivered each week from Fareshare and the supermarkets. Whether it’s because more people are asking for support and this means less food to give out to each individual, or whether it’s because there’s literally less food to be shared around in the first place (I suspect, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s a bit of both), every person coming to a food bank is leaving with less in their carrier bags or pull-along trolleys.