With news that almost 350 000 people visited foodbanks in 2012, an increase of 170%, we take a look at research from the London Assembly on foodbanks published in March 2013.
In their report ‘A Zero Hunger City: Tackling Food Poverty in London‘, the London Assembly noted that foodbanks have become the most “visible manifestation of the growing crisis of food poverty in London.” There are now 40 foodbanks in London, 34 more than the city had in 2009. The average number of people fed by each foodbank in London has risen from 68 in 2009 to 850 in 2013.
This will come as little surprise for those who know the high levels of poverty that exists in one of the richest cities in the world. The poverty rate for children in inner London is 44 per cent – higher than anywhere else in the country.
Large numbers of children in London are now being fed by foodbanks, the report stated. 95 per cent of 164 teachers interviewed for the report said that some children at school arrive hungry, with more than 2 out 5 teachers giving food to children up to once a month.
But interestingly, the elderly in London represent less than one per cent of foodbank users across the city. This is at odds with the high levels of malnutrition reported in elderly people on hospital admission in boroughs such as Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth. An estimated 90 000 elderly people in London suffer from malnutrition, with many having to make the decision between feeding themselves or heating their homes in the winter.
The report suggests there a number of reasons for the lack of elderly people using foodbanks. The major factors are: a lack of awareness about foodbanks; an embarrassment at visiting a foodbank; not knowing how to be referred; and having difficulties getting to a foodbank.
The report states that foodbanks in their current state cannot help elderly people in need, saying:
“Given their very limited use by older people, it is not currently possible to rely on foodbanks as a significant part of the solution in addressing food poverty among older people.”
It suggests that emergency food aid organisations need to find a way of reaching out to those who cannot easily access them, using what data they have to work out who needs to be proactively sought out.
However, the London Assembly report is adamant that foodbanks should be viewed only as an “emergency sticking plaster” rather than an answer to the problem. It states that foodbanks are at the risk of being overwhelmed with demand. Authors of the report say it is vital that London addresses the underlying causes of food poverty and foodbanks do not become an established part of the welfare state.