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Food banks aren’t always the answer…


Food bank sorting

Every food bank provision is different, and there are thousands across the UK. I read recently that there were more food banks in this country than branches of McDonalds, and when you consider how many of the fast-food outlets there are in existence, that’s quite a number.


If you’ve never been in the position of needing to visit a food bank, your view of them may be restricted to the way they’re represented in the media. They are often painted as the solution to the struggles of the needy—so much so that those with the power to make change probably believe that everything is fine and dandy if you live in poverty. Got no money? Just go to your nearest food bank…problem solved.


However, with many food banks limiting their help, the problems of the needy are far from being solved. Some food banks only allow people to use their service four times a year…not because they’re mean or unsympathetic, it’s simply due to the sheer number of people needing their support and a way of making things fair to all.


Again, if you’ve never been a bed-mate to poverty, you probably won’t have a clue how long it can take to become stable after some bad luck or an unfortunate turn of events. If you were to find yourself without a job, if you were at risk of losing your home, or you were unable to make ends meet despite working full-time, there’s rarely a quick fix around the corner. It could take many months to find the right solution, or series of solutions, to make changes that will have a positive impact on your situation.


Food bank sign

In generations past, food banks only had to provide support to those bordering on destitution; today, their audience has widened significantly. Many families, where both parents are already working full-time hours, find it difficult to budget for food, as there’s very little income left after bills and rent have been paid. Wages have been stagnating for more than a decade, yet the cost of living has wildly escalated—a situation that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. So what do these families do? The perception that food banks are only used by people on benefits is a myth.


The Trussell Trust, which has a large network of food banks in the UK, gave out 2.5 million emergency parcels in 2021 alone—a 33% increase on the previous year, and a record number. Over the last five years, the number of people seeking support from the Trussell Trust has risen by a staggering 123%. It proves that we can’t blame everything on Covid.


It’s clear that no one relies on food banks, as they’re just not able to support people in this way; their help is sporadic. They’re a lifeline in an emergency for people, not a way of life, like the press sometimes claims. That so many people need to rely on charity for this most basic of human needs is truly saddening.


LadBaby, the social media influencer, broke a different record a couple of weeks ago, by being the only artist in the UK to achieve four Christmas number one singles in a row. His Christmas cover versions feature sausage rolls throughout, and whilst he receives a lot of criticism for his domination of the music charts, it’s difficult to join in with all the vitriol when you learn that all profits from his songs go to the Trussell Trust. After needing support from food banks in his past, he now fundraises for the charity to help others in this situation.


His critics suggest he uses some other tool or platform to raise money for the charity, and to leave the music charts to ‘serious artists’. I can understand their frustration, but it would have greater effect if they directed it towards the people who can implement the changes needed to improve the lives of people who visit food banks for support, i.e. the Government and local councils.


Whilst some of the provisions a food bank carries comes from the redistribution of waste food—via organisations such as FareShare—most of their supplies are donated by the general public. The challenges the economy has faced recently have put a strain on household incomes at all levels, however; if those who typically donate food also begin to feel the pinch, this will have a knock-on effect for those struggling.


I don’t have the answer, as reducing people’s reliance on food banks is not a quick fix. There needs to be real systematic change to, and perhaps an overhaul of, the benefit system/tax credits, to ensure fewer people struggle, whatever their scenario. In an ideal world, the wages of company bosses, etc. would be capped in relation to the wages they pay workers at the lowest level of their company…for instance, they could earn no more than twelve times the lowest wage—this would soon see workers’ wages shoot up. There should also be a watertight, moral review of all the tax breaks and legal loopholes available to the wealthy, at the same time as substantially raising the lower earnings limit. Corruption should be made a higher priority in the justice system.


I could go on…


Food bank volunteer

There are lots of ways we could better the lives of people in need. At the very least, the rich/poor gap needs to reduce, not widen. If the ‘well off’ experienced what life is really like for people who use food banks, they may be more motivated to help action long-term societal change.


Life, unfortunately, is not fair. The life you’re born into is like playing the lottery…some people are raised in households that never struggle for money, other children seem to feel life’s cruel hands from their first breath.


Food banks exist to ease people’s struggles. It’s not a lifestyle choice, as no one would choose to be in that situation. These organisations do wonderful work, it’s just a shame they’re needed at all.


If you would like help in ensuring your organisation is doing everything it can to provide support to those in need, contact me on 0114 350 3354 or email wendy@letssave.biz.