Food banks are a hot topic at the moment- with an extra resonance because it's Harvest Festival this weekend. The idea that in the midst of plenty, many of our fellow citizens are relying on food hand outs, is an uncomfortable fact for many of us.
Whilst food banks have been around for many years it is only in recent times that their proliferation has attracted mainstream attention, and now barely a week goes by when they are not in the news. On the face of it food banks are A Good Thing- a practical response to immediate need in the community and one of the purest example of Big Society in action. But not everyone is a fan and many say that there are drawbacks to food banks, as supply fuels demand. One thing that is certain however is that the growth in the number of food banks in the UK is evidence that something needs to be done if we want to curb spiralling food poverty in the UK.
The looming question - and the reason that food banks are cropping up time and again in our broadsheets - is what that action should be. At the heart of the food banks debate is a fundamental problem: food banks are a vital frontline service on which many thousands rely - but in acting as a pressure release for an overburdened welfare system, food banks may in themselves depress the demand for reform. As often faces us in charitable area, does the urgent and natural instinct to deal with the immediate crisis deflect us from dealing with the underlying causes of suffering?
So: If you're supporting food banks - are you part of the solution, or part of a short-term fix that's distracting from the cause? Do you pull back from food banks, taking your lead from the rebellion of food bank volunteers in the US, or do you prop food banks up, so they can continue to deliver a service that's stretched to its limits? As much as the former makes sense in the long term - we simply can't do without the services that food banks are providing.
Realistically for the foreseeable future, food banks are going to be part of the furniture. The UK's social safety net is simply unequipped to function without them - as dramatically increasing user statistics reveal.
So just as they are here to stay, so people will continue to passionately argue both for an against them. Both sides can make a compelling argument. NPC's briefing paper, Beyond Beans: food banks in the UK, we've given an overview of the state of play in the world of food banks, summed up the debate and provided some suggestions on how food banks are evolving . This should be an invaluable tool for anyone interested in the topic, and enable them to decide where they stand on the issue. It also offers advice on the different ways to support food banks, if you choose to, and how you can go 'beyond beans' to help.