On Wednesday 7th March, Manchester South Central Foodbank fed 28 people experiencing food insecurity. The Trussell Trust manages over 400 food banks across the UK and along with the churches, mosques, temples, independent charities and community centres that hand out food aid, the estimated number of food banks in the UK comes in at a rather dizzying figure of 2,000. It’s the unpleasant reality of austerity Britain.
Whilst food banks do their best to provide as much support as possible, it’s very common for us to hear that people using the food bank feel ashamed, embarrassed and stressed because of their situation. No matter how many cups of tea and chocolate biscuits we give out during your food bank visit, it’s not going to alleviate the pressure experienced by someone who is struggling through food poverty. One of the most common words that you hear at a food bank is “sorry.”
“Sorry that I’m here. Sorry that I have to rely on emergency food parcels. Sorry to trouble you with my problems.”
If somebody experiences homelessness, domestic violence, benefit sanctions or redundancy then they shouldn’t feel like they need to apologise. We find that food bank clients have often postponed their food bank use until the very last minute, often skipping meals to feed their children and living without heating and electricity before they are willing to resort to requesting emergency food vouchers. In fact, evidence gathered by The University of Manchester showed that some political commentators have accused food bank users of being ‘opportunists’ who ‘live like animals’ and ‘spend their money on tattoos.’ Wow, it’s good to see some great political minds at work solving our country’s social and economic problems, isn’t it?
Food poverty & health
Along with the discrimination associated with food bank use, it’s widely acknowledged that poverty increases the risk of physical and mental health issues. Men living in England’s most deprived areas can expect to live 9.2 years less than men living in wealthier parts of the country. Food poverty causes sustained stress and anxiety, which can damage the way that your body functions. According to mentalhealth.org.uk, mental health issues have the potential to damage a person’s academic and professional performance thus leaving them at a higher risk of economic disadvantage or marginalisation. Alongside that, children living in poverty are more likely to develop issues with their mental health in comparison to their more affluent counterparts. The Child Poverty Action Group tells us that approximately 30% of children in the UK are living in poverty. So mental health and poverty seem chained together in a bit of a vicious circle - one feeds the other, and so both issues continue to spiral into graver severity.
Thankfully, with the work of charities such as Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, the stigma attached to the subject of mental health problems is gradually dwindling. Fortunately, conversations about mental health no longer provoke the extreme awkwardness of yesteryear - it’s slowly becoming more commonplace to discuss it thanks to initiatives run by forward-thinking organisations like Time To Change Mental Health. However, discrimination remains to be an enormous problem specifically for people using food banks, but hopefully by raising awareness of the severity of food poverty, we can try to tackle that as well. Now that Christmas is over, food banks seem to have drifted out of the headlines but the school holidays are looming and that typically brings widespread hunger amongst families who rely on school meals to feed their children.
What you can do to help
Food banks need your help more than ever, let’s do something about it. Forget what the politicians say, people who need food banks aren’t invisible and they do not deserve to be treated like second class citizens, they need your support. Please donate tinned food items, organise a cake sale to raise funds or sign up to help your local food bank in their warehouse. Even if this article encourages just a handful of people to donate to their local food bank, then it will have been worth writing it.