Hunger in the UK: the food banks phenomenon

Saturday 18 October, 10.00 until 11.30, Garden Room, Barbican Austerity Dilemmas

As the economic crisis has made itself felt, increasing numbers of people have been resorting to food banks. According to the Trussell Trust, which runs the biggest network of food banks in the UK, the number of parcels it has handed out has risen from just over 60,000 in 2010-11 to over 900,000 in 2013-14. Supporters of food banks argue that this increased uptake is a result of a steep rise in food poverty.

But if so, what has been the cause? The government’s critics argue that the rise of food banks is a consequence of changes to the benefits system, welfare reform and austerity. Indeed, statistics from the Trussell Trust seem to bear this out, with well over half of requests for emergency food coming from people affected by benefit changes, sanctions or unemployment. Are a million or more people going hungry, as the Trussell Trust claims?

The Department for Work and Pensions claims that this rise is not a matter of increased need or demand but one of supply. After all, the number of food banks has also risen sharply, so there is more opportunity for people to use them. Welfare minister Lord Freud and former minister Edwina Currie have both controversially claimed that it is a simple matter of people using food banks because they’re there.

The government’s own attitude to food banks is ambiguous, too. While the secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, has accused the Trussell Trust of political manoeuvring and exaggeration, others in government seem to welcome food banks as a good thing. Are they the Big Society in action?

Either way, some critics maintain that they are an unwelcome extension of the welfare system into the charity sector (and vice versa). But is there something else going on too? Does the stigma of being a ‘charity case’ mean that some families are going hungry, or has something changed in our communities that makes some people more open to accepting charity than before? All seem to agree that food banks don’t solve the problem of poverty, but are the proposed solutions any better?  What does the increased profile of food banks really say about the UK’s economy and society?

Watch the debate:

Listen to the debate:

Robin Aitken
co-founder, Oxford Food Bank

Dave Clements
adviser to local government; blogger, Guardian, Huffington Post; convenor, IoI Social Policy Forum.

Adrian Curtis
Foodbank network director, the Trussell Trust

Hannah Lambie-Mumford
research in food poverty, Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI), University of Sheffield

Justine Brian
director, Debating Matters Competition

Produced by
Dave Clements adviser to local government; blogger, Guardian, Huffington Post; convenor, IoI Social Policy Forum.
Recommended readings
Food Banks and Food Poverty

Commons Library Standard Note

Emma Downing & Steven Kennedy, House of Commons Library, 9 April 2014

Food bank provision & welfare reform in the UK.

This brief is focused on the impact of recent welfare reform in the UK on driving need for food bank provision.

Hannah Lambie-Mumford, Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, April 2014

Household Food Security in the UK: A Review of Food Aid

This report presents findings from a Rapid Evidence Assessment undertaken from February and March 2013. The aim of the research was to arrive at a better understanding of the ‘food aid’ landscape in the UK and the ‘at risk’ individuals who access such provision.

Iniversity of Warwick and Food Ethics COuncil, February 2014

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