Posted: 13 November 2019

Food banks shouldn't be the norm

Today, the Trussell Trust released research showing the sharpest rise in families unable to feed their children for five years. 

Latest figures show that, in the last six months, 823,145 emergency food parcels were given to people in crisis; with more than a third of these going to children. Families are relying on voluntary support at a time when local councils do not have the funds to help those who need it most.

While food banks and volunteer-led organisations are providing life-saving support to people with nowhere else to turn, they can't replace a local safety net which provides cash, advice and wraparound support to people in crisis. 

The demand for food banks has increased by 73% in five years

Last year, Trussell Trust found a staggering 19% rise in demand across their food bank network, with a 73% increase over the last five years. The fastest growing reasons for this being that benefits simply don't cover the cost of living, and the wait for Universal Credit is just too long

No-one should need a food bank – there should be proper support locally and nationally which prevents people being swept away by the tide of poverty, or that pull people out of the tide if they fall in. A food parcel can never be a replacement for enough money to buy food for yourself and your family. But with very little council-led crisis provision, people are left with little other choice but to visit the food bank when the cupboards are bare.

A local safety net rolled back

In the past, the local safety net included ‘local welfare assistance’ – cash and support which was provided by councils to prevent severe hardship. 

In England this support is at best patchy and at worst non-existent. Over the last 6 years, food banks have been bearing witness to the rollback of this support, with the Nowhere to Turn report showing that very few councils are maintaining or increasing their provision despite a growing need for it.

In fact, we know that in many cases, food bank vouchers are not only replacing financial support, but are being used as a hurdle which people are made to jump over before they can access other support. Shockingly, 1 in 7 councils won’t take a referral for their local welfare assistance scheme unless the person has sought help from a food bank first. If councils expect people to rely on charity before offering help, the system is broken and needs fixing.

We shouldn't be relying on volunteers

At the heart of all of this lies a tension at the local level between scarce resources and already stretched services - severe funding cuts have left councils with little choice but to prioritise the services which they are legally bound to provide like social care and homelessness reduction.  

But statutory crisis provision can’t and shouldn’t be seen as optional. Preventative work to stop people hitting crisis is important, but so is crisis provision – and it’s vitally important that this support is dignified and holistic. Making sure a family can move out of crisis quickly and get the financial support they need saves money in the long term.

Need to strengthen the safety net

If we agree that food banks shouldn’t be the norm, we need to think again about what proper crisis provision means and who is best placed to deliver it.

Councils know their local communities best, and with the right resources from central government, can serve local needs. That's why the Trussell Trust is supporting the Strengthening the Safety Net campaign to ensure every council is able to support children and families in crisis.

We must work to prevent families needing emergency financial support, and provide faster and better support for anyone who finds themselves facing financial crisis.


By Abby Jitendra

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