The growth of food banks: a crisis made in Downing Street

Are more people really using food banks because of a greater awareness of them?

The latest figures from the Trussell Trust on the number of people using emergency food banks make for depressing reading.

Half a million people received three days emergency food assistance from a Trussell Trust foodbank between April and December 2013, according to the organisation’s latest figures. This is more than the number assisted in the entire 2012-13 financial year (346,992). One third of these were also children.

The issue of food banks has risen up the political agenda to such an extent that MPs will dedicate a debate to the subject in the House of Commons this Wednesday.

Some on the Right have put the growth in the number of people using food banks down to their proliferation – there are more food banks open so more people are visiting them as a source of free food. As Robin Aitkin writes for the Telegraph:

To put it another way, a new service is being offered to more and more communities – and, naturally, people are using it. What is more, the sustained media interest in food banks has acted as a kind of giant pro bono advertising campaign; suddenly everybody knows about them.

Others have also attempted to portray the growth in food banks as a positive in itself; an example of the ‘big society’ in action: communities giving vulnerable people the support they need rather than those people relying on the hated state.

So are more people really using food banks simply because there are more of them and a greater awareness of them? Or, more satisfyingly, are people visiting food banks out of an opportunist desire to collect ‘free food’?

Both premises seem extremely unlikely. Firstly because there is no evidence supporting them – they are prejudices more than anything: the poor are on the take etc – but there is also a great deal of evidence pointing to the more obvious cause of greater food bank use: a surge in hardship caused by coalition policies.

Figures from the Trussell Trust (see page 13) show that changes to the benefit system were actually the most common cause of people using food banks. Nearly a third of food parcel recipients had been referred to the Trust after their social security benefits have been delayed and a further 15 per cent visited a food bank as a result of their benefits being cut or stopped (a rise from 11 per cent in 2011–12).

Not exactly scroungers seeking out a free meal, but rather people with no means left with which to purchase food.

Blaming the rise in the number of people using food banks on the attractiveness of food banks is also incredibly myopic when one considers just how fast the price of food has been rising in recent years. According to consumer group Which?, over the last six years food prices have risen over and above general inflation by 12.6 per cent, and nearly half (45 per cent) of consumers are spending a larger proportion of their available income on food than they did 12 months ago.

Most worryingly of all perhaps, three in 10 (29 per cent) now say they are struggling to feed themselves or their family because of the cost. These are exactly the sorts of people who are likely to seek out a food bank.

More people may be aware of the existance of food banks, but more people really do need them – the combination of draconian welfare reforms and rapidly falling living standards mean that more people are spending at least day each week with no money, and therefore nothing to eat.

It is unsurprising that there are people on the Right who are blaming the increase in the number of food banks on ‘scroungers’ looking for free food, but this is a crisis that was made in Downing Street.

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22 Responses to “The growth of food banks: a crisis made in Downing Street”

  1. C Steer

    People have to be referred to a food bank by social worker, c a b, doctor or some other official agency. They can’t just pop in because they fancy a bit of cheap shopping. Cameron etc need to educate themselves a bit better. But they won’t.

  2. Paul Trembath

    Facts? Government policy has very little to do with facts. Who needs facts when you have very convincing prejudices?

  3. TM

    Indeed. Never stopped the Daily Mail or the Sun has it? Facts? Oh, we make them up so we know they are true don’t we?!!

  4. TM

    I am sick and tired and completely fed up with this underhanded government and its attacks on the poor, the vulnerable, the disabled and the unemployed so I am going to volunteer to work in a foodbank. Even if people like IDS, Cameron and Osborne are making things much worse for other people whilst making their own lives much better, I will in my own tiny way try to make a stand against that. Short of bloody revolution, which never works anyway at any time, these people are going to have to be voted out and we all need to bombard newspapers, blogs, radio shows and everywhere else what they are doing to poor people all over this country.

  5. tess sian

    Yes correct, at the foodbanks we give out food to people with vouchers from CAB, doctors, the social etc. However, if people come in unexpectedly we don’t turn them away and they get one free voucher and information on how to get more vouchers if they need. I think the number of opportunists are probably very miniscule and we help far more people who are in desperate need. Having said that, I wish that the government would do more to help these people who are often actually in work but experiencing tough circumstances. Foodbanks should not have to exist.

  6. Sparky

    You weren’t complaining about the Sun when it supported Labour though, were you?

  7. Sparky

    In 2010, 59% of voters voted for Tory and Lib Dem. Compare that with 29% of people who voted for Labour. In other words, just about twice as many people rejected Left Wing policies as wanted them.

    So to say, as people do on these pages, that it’s a government supported only by rich people is patently untrue. The fact that ‘ordinary’ people voted against Labour in huge numbers at the last election sits uneasily with premise that it’s the ‘people’s party’ and that only ‘fat cats’ and the ‘1%’ vote Conservative. It just isn’t true. And just because you feel a self-righteous indignation does not mean that it’s a widely-shared view. Of course it is here, because it’s a Left wing website, but out in the real world…well, don’t hold your breath.

  8. Timmy2much

    So are more people really using food banks simply because there are more of them and a greater awareness of them? YES

    are people visiting food banks out of an opportunist desire to collect ‘free food’? YES

    are more people visiting food banks because they need to? YES

    Why is it so difficult to accept that all three points of view are correct and there is nothing myopic about it – the only difference is to what degree for each.

  9. Timmy2much

    The previous government prevented social services et al from sending people to foodbanks – the only logical reason being that it would look bad politically.
    In 2011 this government changed that regardless of the bad press biased articles like this generate.
    So whos underhand???

  10. Timmy2much

    Look at the stats on this page, reasons for claiming – 29.69% from benefit delays; 18.45% low income; 14.65% benefit changes; 9.52% debt

    Thats 72.32%

    The biggest problem appears to be with the efficiency of the benefits system (thats assuming all applicants complete their forms correctly) – THIS IS WHAT PEOPLE SHOULD BE ASKING QUESTIONS ABOUT!

    The second is low income – which backs up what tess sian has said – the reasons for this though are myriad and largely outside government control. Without a large scale study blame cannot be apportioned for this reason as it is just as likely that poor money management / bad luck of the claimant can be to blame as much as anything else (ie they have sky tv or purchased a house prior to losing their job and then couldnt sell it because of the market conditions etc.).
    Now I can already hear the ‘raise the minimum wage’ brigade but that is a false economy as it would force up the price of goods while simultaneously giving a pay cut to anyone who earns more than the minimum wage but doesnt receive a pay increase.

    In third place is benefit changes – as before poor money management can be to blame Benefit changes have gained popular support for the most part so the response to this is (and should be) TOUGH (cue faux rage and heart bleeding!)

    The final one, debt, goes back to poor money management.

    When you look at the groups logically it is clear to see that the problem is not one of penny pinching so much as it is about clerical incompetence. and a workforce that has been sidelined by successive governments importing labour that suppresses low end wages..

  11. treborc1

    We have always had people in need even during the so called good times of new labour, and then the crises stared in 2007 we saw a massive rise in people living on the streets. I use to go out with the council giving out blanket to people sleeping in the winter, I use to take three flask of hot soup to give out. By the time I had to give it up I was taking a shopping trolley with flasks of soup and tea and bread.
    This I suspect will be a long time going I suspect food banks will be the norm now.

  12. David

    I am the Chairman of THE OXFORD FOODBANK. Each week through the efforts of 100+ volunteers we deliver 3.5 tonnes of food each week to charities that prepare meals ( about 8000 per week). Our supplies are free – as they are “waste” food and would otherwise be destroyed. This has an approximate commercial value in excess of £750K.

    Unlike other Foodbank models we do not charge anyone, we work 9 hours per day and we do the work. WHY spend all this hot air talking about causes – why not put all this energy into spreading our low cost ( never taken any government funding) solution to other cities.

    There will always be waste in the food chain so why not use it to solve some of the issues around food poverty – it is criminal not to!

  13. TM

    Sparky, I despise the Sun totally, to be honest.

  14. TM

    Sparky, one thing I have and always will agree with is difference of opinion and debate. I agree with you, there are lots of people who vote Tory and also that Labour are no more all angels than the Tories are all demons. It’s all shades of grey really. But at the moment the Tories are in and things seem to be getting worse.

  15. TM

    Fair point Timmy. They are all opportunists at the end of the day.

  16. TM

    ‘When you look at the groups logically it is clear to see that the biggest problems are not ones of penny pinching so much as it is about clerical incompetence (both government and individual). and a workforce that has been sidelined by successive governments importing labour that suppresses low end wages..’ Exactly Timmy. That sums up what I would say, most eloquently I may say.

  17. Timmy2much

    I think the tories get a bum rap when you look at it in terms of things getting better or worse. The thing is as people become more concerned about political issues (the economy especially) they become more conservative in nature therefore the tories are more likely to win an election during the economic bad times. When things start looking rosey again people start paying less attention to politics and become more liberal – which plays in to labour / liberal policies (and sound bites!).

    What people should be taking note of though is the cycle. Typically after 10 years of a tory government the country becomes economically successful. After 10 years of a labour government the country is on its knees. We literally are like lemmings as a voting populace because this is the 3rd time it has happened (maybe not all of us are lemmings but you get the gist ;p ).

    Labour should never be allowed to control national government ever again – they are dangerous with that much power economically and socially. However as a local council group they CAN be very good because of their local socialist policies. However I’m going to caveat this – there is a reason why the north is still struggling after the closure of the steel and mining industries of the 80’s and after 13yrs of a labour government and that is not the tories – its labour, they are far too interested in social engineering and neglect the economic realities (locally and nationally).
    Conversely the tories are not so good on the local level from a social point of view, but as a national government they are very very adept at looking after the economy. It’s a little too much to give any credit to local tory councils for the economic benefits of the south as there is so much more money in the south to start with that you couldnt separate council policy from local money. Money is also the reason why the tories are so bad socially on the local level – they dont have to think about it as much, the majority of the populace have money and are beyond the dictats of local councils.

    Like you said though, its all shades of grey, and what I’ve said is a very black and white assessment – but its a broad enough stroke of the brush to hold some truth imho.

    ps – im not convinced by the current tory government, some of the policies have been very good (help to buy) but they are missing some of the major causes of the economic problems we are facing.
    On a social level – I’m in despair! (maybe not for the same reasons as some though!)

  18. Chris Kitcher

    I have been told today that the EU has at least £2 million available for food banks in the east of England but the government refuses to allow this to be claimed. Does anyone have any more info on this disgrace?

  19. TM

    That’s a very reasoned comment Timmy. You’re assessment seems a good one. I’ll have to give that some thought. I can’t say I agree with everything, but at least you are not just posting soundbites, you do have an argument that makes for good reading and, may I add, opens further debate. Isn’t that what all politics needs anyway, a bit of genuine and open debate, instead of the playground pointing and jeering that often seems to pass for political debate in this country so versed in free speech?! Thanks.

  20. Cole

    2010 is a long time ago. And many people who voted LibDem didn’t think they were voting for a Tory government (which is why the LibDems struggle to get to 10% in polls).

  21. Cole

    It really isn’t true that Labour always mess up the economy and the Tories don’t. It’s just another of those fairy tales right wingers put about.

  22. Davep

    Hate to burst your blame bubble people, but in case you hadn’t noticed, the country is facing a £1trillion debt mountain and a £120 billion deficit.

    If you think its bad now, then just wait to see what’s coming next.

    You ain’t seen nothing yet and there’s not a thing any elected MP can do for you, it doesn’t matter who you vote for that debt is going to have to be paid before anyone can eat.

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