Contrary to popular belief foodbanks are not for the homeless. It is those with low incomes, benefit delays and bad redundancy packages that are the foodbank’s main visitors and this is only likely to increase as falling incomes and welfare spending cuts continue. Molly Hodson, a spokesperson for the Trussell Trust, Britain’s largest network of foodbanks, said: “We see a real range of people coming in now. There’s definitely been an increase in variation since before the recession.”
Trussell Trust director, Adrian Curtis, said the increase of people using foodbanks reflected a rise in bills, job losses and less disposable income. Curtis commented:
“They’re not necessarily people who are welfare dependent. They’re working families who can’t afford to buy their way out of hard times.”
But critics of foodbanks worry that they are an unsustainable response to poverty. They argue the banks are contributing to Britain’s informal welfare safety net of soup kitchens, domestic violence refuges and school breakfast clubs.
Council invests in food bank
Lambeth council made the national headlines in August after it proposed to provide funding for Brixton’s foodbank yet claimed it was “holding its nose” while doing so as it didn’t believe the scheme was a solution to the borough’s poverty. Elizabeth Mayton, head of Brixton foodbank, is also worried that getting involved in formal crisis welfare provision could be “something that completely swamps food banks.”
Lambeth councillor Lib Peck said: “We are talking to a range of local charities – including food banks, advice agencies, furniture suppliers and the Credit Union about how to meet (poverty) needs although we haven’t yet made any firm decisions.”
It could be construed that the council are behaving co-operatively but it also seems that community groups with limited funding are running public services to provide for those the government has forgotten. Foodbanks are becoming a common feature in many neighbourhoods and there is a danger the direct underlying issues will be ignored.
US sociologist Janet Poppendick charted the rise of food assistance in the mid 1980s in north America and stated that American food banks have now become an institutionalised operation. The popularity of foodbanks have soared, but the states’ obligation to feed its hungry citizens has rapidly diminished. Whether the UK follows a similar route remains to be seen.