Food Bank Britain 2013: some uncomfortable truths

There is a debate in parliament today on the rising use of – and need for – food banks in Britain in 2013.

Inside Croydon’s Christmas Appeal this year is for Croydon Nightwatch, the local charity which dispenses food to the homeless, vulnerable and poor every night of the year at Queen’s Gardens.

Trussell Trust ogo1Croydon Council and the police want to have Nightwatch’s soup kitchen moved, on various spurious grounds. The hidden agenda is that having a soup kitchen working each night with the poor and vulnerable in the light cast from Fisher’s Folly, the council’s £140 million new offices, and close to the site of where they want to build a tower of yuppie flats is just too much of an embarrassment, even for the shameless councillors who “run” our borough.

Florid-face Mike Fisher, the leader of Croydon Council (annual “allowances” as a councillor £53,223) and his fellow Tory councillors might do well to take a look at this Baker’s Dozen of uncomfortable facts about food banks in Britain in 2013:

  1. Food bank use in the south-east, the region known for its wealth and relative prosperity, is up over 60 per cent this year.
  2. There are more than 400 food banks across Britain.
  3. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest network of food banks, now opens new food banks in Britain every week to cope with the increase in referrals.
  4. The government commissioned a report into the rise in food bank use in June this year. The government is refusing to publish the report.
  5. Some in full-time work are using food banks to support themselves and their families.
  6. Half a million people received emergency food assistance from a Trussell Trust food bank between April and December 2013. This is more than the number assisted in the entire year before (346,992).
  7. People cannot simply turn up to a food bank and ask for help, they need to be identified as being in need by a healthcare professional or social services or similar, and referred with a form or a voucher. It isn’t, as certain politicians would have you believe, an opportunist desire for free food.
  8. Figures from the Trussell Trust show that changes to the benefit system are the most common cause for food bank use in Britain. Nearly one-third had been referred after benefits had been delayed, and a further 19 per cent due to their benefits being cut or stopped.
  9. 3 in 10 people say they are now struggling to feed themselves and their family because of the rising cost of food.
  10. All 152 councils in England have set up welfare assistance schemes to replace the crisis loan and community care grant elements of the social fund, which until April were provided by the DWP. Some schemes offer food vouchers in place of cash assistance, and a number are working in partnership with food banks. Despite 87 per cent of benefit claimants being in work, almost two-thirds of the local council welfare schemes stipulate that working people are not eligible for their help.
  11. Some food banks now open twice a day in order to meet the number of referrals in their local community.
  12. Food banks don’t just hand out emergency food, they also provide other essentials such as nappies, formula milk and sanitary towels.
  13. Food banks do not encourage a cycle of dependency. Molly Hodson from the Trussell Trust says: “Our food banks are different to American and Canadian food banks, they are an emergency service. Where there is a welfare provision, nobody should be at a point where they can’t put food on the table long-term. We help people out of poverty by working with local agencies and charities for example if someone has debt problems, we put them in touch with a debt counselling charity. We want to help resolve the issues, and make sure people have a route out of poverty.”

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