Food Banks: The 10 Most Common Myths And How To Challenge Them

26/10/2013 14:30 | Updated 22 April 2015

It's an embarrassing fact for the coalition government, that soaring numbers of people turning to emergency food banks.

More than 350,000 people received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks between April and September 2013, triple the numbers helped in the same period last year.

But can the figures be explained away, more awareness, more foodbanks opening, and people just after a free lunch...?


HuffPost UK asked the Trussell Trust, the UK's largest network of foodbanks, to rebutt the common attacks against food banks.

  • 1 Foodbanks only give out unhealthy food
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    Not true, say The Trussell Trust. They work with dieticians to design a nutritionally balanced food parcel, but crucially using non-perishable items that can last, unlike American food banks that giver users any old near-dated surplus food.
  • 2 Foodbanks are there because people like free things
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    This was the argument used by millionaire Lord Freud in the House of Lords. But "people can’t just turn up asking for free food, they are referred by professionals"" says Chris Mould, executive chair of the Trust. If someone turns up without a voucher, food bank staff put them in touch with relevant local agencies who can assess whether they need a voucher and signpost them to the right services.
  • 3 The number of people helped by foodbanks is only growing because more are opening
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    This is the defence that Cameron has oft used in Prime Minister's Questions. The number of people receiving emergency food is disproportionate to the number of new foodbanks opening: last year numbers helped by foodbanks increased by 170% whilst there was only a 76% increase in new foodbanks opening.
  • 4 Foodbanks are doing a great job, so we shouldn’t be worried about the growth in numbers needing them
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    Again, this is a common Tory refrain, and one recently examined in the Spectator. Foodbanks obviously don't dispute the first part but they are ‘deeply concerned’ by the growing numbers who are needing them. And many politicians are horrified. "If you had told be at the beginning of my political career that I'd be addressing this kind of problem when I was coming to the end of my career, I'd have been gobsmacked," government poverty tsar Frank Field MP has said.
  • 5 Foodbanks are used by people who are too lazy to work
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    Over 50% of children living in poverty in the UK are from working households and many of the people helped by foodbanks are in work, with the rising cost of living combined with no rise in wages causing many to hit a crisis where they can’t afford to eat.
  • 6 Supermarkets should give all their leftovers to food banks, including vegetables
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    This was a refrain heard regularly last week as it emerged Tesco throws away two-thirds of its bagged salad. Firstly, small local food banks often cannot cope with storing perishables. And the Trussell Trust doesn't believe in giving people sub-standard, out-of-date food "simply because they are poor," Mould says. Charity FareShare does work to redistribute surplus food from supermarkets and manufacturers to local charities.
  • 7 Foodbanks are just part of the welfare system
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    The Trussell Trust receives no government funding and foodbanks are not part of the welfare state. In fact, their foodbanks are advised by head office against entering into contractual agreements with local authorities.
  • 8 Foodbank usage is growing because Jobcentres can now refer to foodbanks
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    This is the Department of Work and Pensions line. But this has been possible since 2011, so would not explain the latest drastic rise of foodbank use increasing by a third. And the Trussell Trust believes less than 3% of people visiting food banks are referred by Jobcentres.
  • 9 Foodbanks are a bad idea because they create dependency and don’t address causes
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    "If people come to a foodbank more than three times in six months our system automatically flags this so that the foodbank manager can contact their social worker or the service that referred them to make sure that there is a plan in place to help their client break out of poverty," Mould says, The Trust insists that the reality is that without foodbanks people go hungry, and they prevent people from turning to extreme measures such as shoplifting or rummaging through bins in order to eat.
  • 10 Foodbanks are only growing because the media is obsessed with covering them
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    The Trussell Trust is adamant that media coverage does not generate the need. Independent research shows that 1 in 5 mums regularly skip meals to feed their children in the UK today. Widespread evidence from a range of care professionals states that short term hunger is a deep and real problem in the UK. More foodbanks are opening because people are going hungry.

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