Theoretical debates and politicians’ arguments about autumn statements, mortgage rates, free school meals, and energy caps sometimes have the effect of ignoring the human ramifications of decisions. Poverty in the UK has been rapidly getting worse over the years, despite the country remaining one of the wealthiest worldwide. This impacts all aspects of an individual’s life – their access to heating, transportation, job security, childcare, and perhaps most vitally, their access to food.
Foodbanks used to be primarily used as a one-off or short-term solution for individuals struggling, due to redundancy or unexpected bills – effectively an interim measure. This has drastically changed, with an increasing number of individuals referred continuing to rely on food banks for many months. Further, it is not uncommon for households relying on food banks to have two working adults in full-time employment paying the bills and providing, still not quite making ends meet. Individuals relying on these services no longer fit the archetypes of ‘food bank user’ that many assume is the case- institutions are reporting an increase in nurses, teachers, and young professionals. Food poverty does not fit a Dickensian stereotype in 2022.
With inflation at 11.1%, this is sadly unsurprising. Research based on supermarket data reveals that essential items have increased by 7% in the last 12 months alone. This, coupled with the rise in energy has left many families that were just about managing, now failing to. According to the Trussell Trust, 1.3 million food parcels were provided in six months in 2022. At the same due to the pressure on everyone’s finances, over half of foodbanks polled saw a marked decline in both food and financial donations, leading to concerns over the long-term support that can be provided to families in the long term. This is already impacting some, with the head of the Greenwich food bank in South London already forced to spend roughly £9000 a month on food.
In order to meet the unprecedented demand placed upon food banks this winter, the Trussell Trust in October launched an emergency fundraising appeal.
In a style similar to Marcus Rashford’s free school meals initiative in 2020, several other organisations and individuals have stepped up to help as much as they can. Morrisons, for example, runs multiple schemes, including a ‘feed the family’ initiative, and another one allowing children to eat for free. Celebrities including Zayn Malik, who relied on free school meals as a child have joined the increasing number of those calling for the prime minister to give all crisis in poverty free school meals during the cost of living crisis. Malik has recently become an ambassador for the Food Foundation, aiding in their ‘Feed the Future’ campaign – led by a coalition of Jamie Oliver Ltd, Bite Back 2030, Child Poverty Action, and Chefs in Schools, representing over 500,000 teachers.
Another initiative comes from Simon Baum, a songwriter and activist, who has founded ‘FoodBankDay’, aimed at raising awareness about food banks, encouraging people to donate food and money, and urging people to volunteer. Food Bank Day will take place on November 30, not as a celebration, but fundraiser and awareness-raising campaign designed to get people talking about, and helping out at, foodbanks.
The project aims to connect people with their local food banks and bring broader awareness to the issue by encouraging people to write to their MPs and donate to the Trussell Trust.
Both free school meals and food banks need to succeed in this time, to ensure children are fed both at home and school, and struggling adults are not left hungry. These renewed efforts from activists and campaigners, amongst others, aim to ensure that happens.