It’s an ugly truth of our sometimes ugly age. Acccording to the Trussell Trust, the number of people making use of its 400 food banks has topped one million (but see this cricisim of the 1 million figure, its perhaps only half a million people a year).
I can’t find any data on the total number of food banks in the UK. A lot are run by voluntary organisations, including here in Ludlow. So the number of people in desperate need of food is well over half a million. And yet, the IMF says we are the fifth largest economy in the world.
Five years ago, none of us would have expected the need for food banks to have grown so quickly.
A number of factors are driving the growth in food bank use. One is the growing inequality in Britain. Most people on low wages haven’t seen the benefits of current economic recovery. The problems within the benefits system also aren’t helping.
The government has underestimated how difficult it is to change the benefits system without leaving people out of pocket. Even small delays to benefits can lead to people running out of food. The move to universal credit, along with benefits reductions and sanctions has created problems in getting the right payments to the right people. Sometimes people don’t get enough money to survive, even when they are ill. Public sector staff cuts don’t help.
This is likely to get worse as universal credit is rolled out – the roll out in Shropshire began on Monday. Universal credit payments are paid monthly, one month in arrears. Many people currently find it hard to stretch their limited benefit income over two weeks let alone four. In week one they pay the bills and do as much stocking of food and gas and electric meters as possible. Week two is often known as a ‘pasta week’ as that is all there is to eat.
I worry that people in this position will in future be tempted to raid the rent payment. Under universal credit rent is paid to the individual not the landlord. This is a stupid and burdensome change that leads to social and private landlords chasing rent and tenants facing increased risk of eviction.
We need to put a greater emphasis on speedy resolution of benefit entitlements and on getting money to needy people quickly. The next government should also simplify the system by paying rents directly to landlords.
Back to the food banks.
Our food banks are run by hard working volunteers who are to be congratulated for giving their time to help struggling people and families.
I dropped into the Ludlow food bank with Charlotte Barnes recently. We were really impressed by the way they provide a balanced, nutritious food parcel, especially as it is not practical to include fresh fruit and vegetables in the pack. There is help through Churches Together to help people who might become reliant on the food bank rather than managing their own shopping.
The food bank at Rockspring is run by Churches Together Around Ludlow. It is a great and essential social service.
But wouldn’t be much better if we had no need for food banks at all?
Could you donate food?
Here is a list of items that food bank supplies to single person food parcel.
The quantities are increased for families. Other items are welcome but no out of date food please. The food bank is usually well supplied with tea and pasta. The items that run out most frequently are coffee, sugar, squash & fruit juice, tinned and instant potatoes, boil-in-the-bag rice and sweetcorn. Generally the food bank does not give out fresh food.
People can donate food in Wesley’s and St. Laurence’s, and at both One Stop shops. The most direct way to donate is to take it to the Rockspring Centre, where there is a large trunk in which the food can be placed. If food is brought between 11am and 1pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday it can be given directly to the volunteers.
Do you need help with food?
If you are out of food, the food bank is there to help you. But you can’t just walk in. You will need a referral. That can come from Citizens Advice, any charity supporting you, your housing association, your social worker, GP or church.