The Trust point out that there have been 500,000 people coming to foodbanks in the six month period between April and September this year, 38% more than for the comparable period last year.
Currently, 45% of food bank referrals are due to benefit delays and changes, including sanctions and 22% of the 500,000 that came cite low income as the main trigger for the crisis.
So foodbanks are flourishing. The question though must be what should their role be moving forward?
An excellent report funded by the Church of England and compiled by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty has credited the foodbanks for staging “a social Dunkirk.”
The report, Feeding Britain, makes three main recommendations, first that there are changes to the benefits system to ensure people are not thrown into poverty.
Second, that low pay must be addressed, which means the living wage being implemented across the country (£7.85 an hour and £9.15 in London), thereby putting more money into people’s pockets.
The third suggestion is the creation of a new generation of “super” food banks, which combine food aid with welfare advice and advocacy. This network of foodbanks would bring together the existing players with supermarkets and the state.
The story of foodbanks in Canada provides a salutary lesson. Foodbanks were introduced in Canada in the early 1980s in what was perceived as a tough economic time.
There are now 700 foodbanks in Canada, providing help to 800,000 people. The number has increased by nearly 100,000 over the past six years – as the country has come out of economic recession. The foodbanks have taken on a role previously undertaken by the welfare system.
Writing in the Guardian, Graham Riches, emeritus professor and former director of the School of Social Work, University of British Columbia, tells how foodbanks have become a second tier of the benefits system in Canada. “The sad fact is that in Canada, with its 30-year track record of increasingly corporatised food charity, recent national data shows that one in eight households or 3.9 million individuals (11.6% of the population) are still experiencing food insecurity,” said Riches, who criticises the Feeding Britain report for only addressing the supply side of the question and thereby recommending “a vanguard role for the charitable food industry and food waste in the battle against structurally caused food poverty.”
He argues that this can only lead to “the long-term institutionalisation of food banking and diminish political appetite for progressive reform."
Riches argues that in Canada public perception of food charity is that it should take care of domestic hunger. “Governments can look the other way,” said Riches, who suggests that a right to food should be entrenched in domestic law backed by international statute, then the obligation to deal with hunger would be put fully back under the responsibilities of the state.
*published Morning Star - 19/12/2014