Hunger in the UK? The Food Banks PhenomenonPart of the Battle of Ideas 2014 festival of debate* - a satellite event on the issue of food poverty.
As the economic crisis has made itself felt, increasing numbers of people have resorted to food banks. According to The Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest provider of food banks, the number of parcels it has handed out has risen from 61,468 in 2010/11 to over 900,000 in 2013/14. Supporters of food banks argue that this increased uptake is a result of a steep rise in food poverty.
But if so, what has been the cause? The government’s critics argue that the rise of food banks is a consequence of changes to the benefits system, welfare reform and austerity. Indeed, statistics from the Trussell Trust seem to bear this out, with well over half of requests for emergency food coming from people affected by benefit changes, sanctions or unemployment.
However, the Department for Work and Pensions claims that the rise in food bank use is a matter not of increased need or demand but of supply - that as the number of food banks has risen sharply, so there is more opportunity to use them. A claim backed up controversially by Welfare minister Lord Freud and former minister Edwina Currie.
The government’s own attitude to food banks is ambiguous, too. While Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, has accused the Trussell Trust of political manoeuvring and exaggeration, others in government seem to welcome food banks as a good thing - the ‘Big Society’ in action.
But is there something else going on too? Has something changed in our communities that makes some people more open today to accepting charity? And while all seem to agree that food banks don’t solve the problem of poverty, are the proposed solutions any better? What does the increase in food banks really say about the UK’s economy and society?
The institutionalisation of emergency food provision: a danger to the social safety net?, Richard Bridge, University of Leeds, August 2014
Still hungry for answers on foodbanks, Dave Clements, Huffington Post, June 2014
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain, Emily Duggan, Independent, April 2014
People using foodbanks are hard-up not hungry, Dave Clements, Huffington Post, April 2014
Foodbank demand prompts hunger warning by Archbishop, BBC, April 2014
'Food Bank Britain', More or Less, BBC Radio 4, May 2014
The Battle of Ideas 2014 is two days of high-level, thought-provoking, public debate organised by the Institute of Ideas, and held on Saturday 18th & Sunday 19th October at the Barbican, London. The Festival comprises over 80 debates and satellite discussions confronting society’s big issues and unresolved questions. For more information and tickets, visit the Battle of Ideas website.