When we talk of hunger and malnourishment, we often think of developing countries. We don’t immediately consider food poverty & food banks in our own neighbourhoods. Even before COVID, figures for 2019 showed one in five adults living with some degree of food insecurity. Nearly one in five children, were living in a home where parents could not regularly afford to put food on the table (UNICEF). The World Bank estimates nearly 2 million people in the UK are undernourished and with the current crisis, the situation is worsening drastically.
What's the level of food poverty & food banks?
There are now around 2000 food banks across the UK with the Trussell Trust managing about 1200 of them. Last year, before the COVID outbreak, the Trussell Trust was already recording a 19% increase in demand with one third of these parcels going to children. The COVID-19 outbreak has had a devastating impact on thousands of families. In April 2020, The Trussell Trust, gave out 89% more food parcels, compared to the same month last year. The Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan) experienced a 175% increase over the same period.
How do food banks help those in food poverty?
Foodbanks are there to provide emergency food to people in crisis. As charities, they rely entirely on donations and receive no state funding. Care professionals, GP’s, as well as schools and social workers can all make referrals. People are then issued with a food bank voucher, which gives them three days’ worth of food. In the current crisis, some foodbanks are increasing the size of the food parcels to feed people for longer.
Who uses Foodbanks?
So who uses food banks? Research from the University of Oxford & Kings College London, found most people were of working age and living in rented accommodation. Almost 9 out of 10 were born in the UK. Users are described as living in “extreme financial vulnerability”, missing meals, often for days at a time and going without heating and electricity. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of parcels going to families with children has almost doubled compared to the same period last year.
Reliance on food banks was high even before the COVID-19 outbreak. Charities are now warning of an economic crisis and calling for emergency measures. The Chair of the Independent Food Aid Network, Sabine Goodwin says
"The escalating food insecurity crisis is avoidable. The solution is not in trying to distribute more food parcels but in providing sufficient income to the huge numbers of people impacted by this crisis and the poverty that preceded it.”
Acting director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) Helen Barnard says:
“It’s simply not right that so many more people are having to turn to food banks because they are unable to meet their basic costs. We all want to help each other weather this storm, but families with children are being particularly hard hit and do not have the lifeline they need to stay afloat. Millions already caught up in poverty face deepening hardship, whilst many more risk being pulled into poverty alongside them."
Food poverty & food banks usage in the UK is at an unprecedented level. Many more families with children are being impacted than ever before. The issues are complex. The answers lie not only in donations, but in systemic change and support for the most vulnerable in our society.