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?
Guest Chair: Justine Brian is the National Coordinator for the sixth-form Debating Matters competition, and is an occasional writer on food issues.