30 December 2013

Food banks in the UK

Food banks are now common in the UK; many people are in difficulties because of the heavy cost of housing, ever increasing fuel bills and low income. These costs are unlikely to fall, and continuing pressure on earnings leaves many families unable to cope.

Part of the Food Bank warehouse
Part of the Food Bank warehouse
Food banks are operating in every part of the world, not just in the UK. Wherever the need exists volunteers are doing their best to help, but it's not always easy.

In Britain the Trussell Trust and FareShare UK make it relatively straightforward to start a local food charity.

Local action - The St Neots Food Bank in my own town was started by a group of churches in the summer of 2013 and began distributing food packages in October; they used the Trussell Trust model and have found the guidance, materials and expertise provided by them very helpful. The photo shows stored food being catalogued before being used to make up food packages for distribution.

The process - This is straightforward in principle, but needs dedicated time and effort by teams of volunteers.

  • The food is non-perishable (canned and dry products) and is donated by churches, schools, and individual shoppers via collection days at supermarkets.
  • Donated food is taken to the warehouse, weighed, labelled, sorted and stored in crates. Packages for distribution are made up in a range of sizes intended to last for three days.
  • Packages are taken to two distribution centres in the town.
  • Local organisations are given Food Bank Vouchers to give out when they become aware of a need. Voucher holders include schools, the Citizens Advice Bureau, doctor's surgeries and so forth.
  • People who have received a voucher take it to a distribution centre and exchange it for a food package.
This approach enables the Food Bank to focus on collecting, managing and providing food supplies without being involved in deciding who is in need. The voucher-holding agencies have the responsibility and necessary knowledge to do this.

Why are food banks needed? - It is, of course, right and good that churches and other groups are willing and able to provide this service to the community. And it's wonderful that the public and local businesses are willing to donate food and help in so many other ways. In St Neots a local furniture shop provides much of the warehouse and office space and additional storage has been given by another business.

But why is it necessary? Why, in twenty-first century Britain, is there a need (and, it has to be said, a steadily growing need) for food banks? [Tweet it!] There are a number of reasons and they have to do with the economy but also with government action (or lack of it, or too much of it). There has been some debate, but not enough appropriate action.

I'm not going to elaborate here, instead I'll point you to this recent article in The Guardian.


Questions:

  • Does it surprise you that food banks are becoming much more common in the UK?
  • How do you think government policy might be changed to reduce the need for them?
  • Do you think things will be better or worse in two years time?
  • Is there anything you can do to help address local needs?

See also:

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