Over the last couple of years, the number of food banks operating across the UK has increased exponentially. I talked about the issue at the beginning of the year—even then, I had no idea how bad things could get for people.
The cost-of-living crisis and escalating energy prices have piled further pressure on people already struggling to make ends meet. Whereas sustaining life through having enough to eat was the biggest concern for the poorest in our society, they now have another challenge to overcome—staying warm and maintaining their health. If affording food was a problem before this crisis, meeting humungous energy bills with the same limited budget will be beyond difficult. For many individuals and families across the country, staying warm has become a difficult choice rather than a right—they either eat or keep warm. What a horrible decision to have to make…both are crucial to our health. There are already horrible examples of how a cold, damp house can impact its inhabitants’ health—such as the mouldy environment that played a part in the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak in Rochdale.
In response to the problem, many community centres, libraries, other council-run public spaces and commercial premises have turned their spare rooms into ‘warm banks’, inviting anyone who is struggling to keep warm for free. These buildings have to be open anyway, with the heating on, to provide their services or commercial activities—it’s perhaps a no-brainer to them that they invite people in to share their space who would otherwise be shivering in the cold at home.
The term ‘warm banks’ has been coined, in respect of this initiative. Many grant-makers have shifted their funding priorities to meet this need, changing their awards criteria to cover any additional energy costs community buildings and organisations may encounter, if offering their spaces up to the public. According to the World Economic Forum, 3,000 organisations in the UK have already signed up as official warm banks throughout winter.
It’s sad that warm banks are needed in this day and age, and that they will be used by people who are already battling to survive. Yet again, as I spoke about in this article, it’s charities and community organisations that have predominantly come to the rescue of people in need. To the rescue of people working, as well as the most vulnerable in society, who all should, at the very least, be able to afford to meet their basic needs, which are food, water, air and shelter. The latter should protect against the elements, and include ways for an individual to keep warm, and yet this is one of the issues the poorest amongst us are facing.
We’re not living in a third world country, and this issue is not limited to people who rely on what the right-wing call ‘government hand-outs’. It’s affecting ordinary families across the country. This includes people who can’t take on more hours because they’re already working at capacity, people with caring commitments (who actually save the economy millions each year), people who are unable to work because of illness, people in lower-paid but necessary roles, parents who can’t afford childcare and who are therefore limited to the work they can do. Most of us are only a pay cheque or two away from being in a position to need help and support from third parties.
Given this situation, it's insulting that MPs receive expenses relating to their second homes and subsidised meals on top of other perks. These people already receive a decent wage (whether they live in London or not). Why do our taxes go to making their lives easier when there are elderly people riding the bus all day long because it’s warmer than their own four walls? You wouldn’t need to be a genius to realise this is all wrong. That our system is set up to benefit the wrong people. Will MPs ever need to sit in a warm bank because they can’t afford their energy bills? In a word, no.
It sickens me that warm banks exist, and that there are so many of them that we’ve been forced to coin a phrase. I’m a positive person, but it’s quite frightening to think where we go from here. At one point, the rising number of food banks was shocking enough to us but look at where we are now. I just hope this is the UK’s ‘rock bottom’, and that the only way is up from here.