The rise and rise of the food bank

A food bank in Coventry (photo via The Guardian)

A food bank in Coventry (photo via The Guardian)

A couple of months ago, I set up a Google Alert for the terms ‘food security’ and ‘food aid’ for a piece I was writing. I was, sadly, expecting the steady stream of stories about hunger in developing countries and the variety of efforts to stop it. But what I was not ready for was the deluge of articles about food banks and hunger in the UK – and the deafening political silence surrounding it.

While countless excellent reports show every day that food banks are seeing record demand for their services, particularly over Christmas, interest in this issue is, as Dan Hancox points out in his brilliantly angry piece on openDemocracy, surprisingly scarce.

This is a problem that affects the whole country, from Cumbria to Kent, from Yorkshire to Wiltshire – and it shows no sign of abating. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank provider, reports that the number of people using their services has doubled over the last year to 130,000, and the number of banks they run has risen to almost 300.

But where is the outraged political debate about this? Where are the politicians shocked by hunger in Britain, one of the richest countries in the world? Where is the sense of urgency that this appalling situation has got to be sorted out?

Well, it’s just not there. Instead, what we have is ignorance, derision and downright offensiveness.

Councillor Chris Steward

Councillor Chris Steward (photo via York Press)

The best recent example of this is a Tory councillor in York attacking food banks on Twitter, because there is simply ‘no need’ for them. According to The York Press, Cllr Chris Steward said on Twitter that

“There is certainly no need for food banks; no-one in the UK is starving and I think food banks insult the one billion in the world that go to bed hungry every day.”

Despite his flagrantly offensive remarks, Steward’s comments have stirred little anger, except from those who run food banks and a few fellow councillors. Chris Mould, executive chairman of the Trussell Trust, responded that “it is clear that people in the UK who we meet have been going without meals when they arrive at food banks. They are going to bed hungry too.”

Perhaps the reason for the muted political response is simply that Steward’s views are shared by our political leaders? Sadly, it’s not so farfetched to imagine Dave and George agreeing with the view that

“the fact that some give food to food banks merely enables people who can’t budget… or don’t want to, to have more money to spend on alcohol, cigarettes etc.”

In a government that’s quite content to bash the poor on a regular basis and blames them for the challenges they face, it’s not surprising that there isn’t more debate about this issue.

So why is demand for food banks rising, and what is being done about it? Tune into my next blog to find out…

Recommended reads on food banks