Hunger in the UK? The food banks phenomenon

Wednesday 8 October, 18.45 until 20.30, Millennium Room, Carriageworks Theatre, The Electric Press, 3 Millennium Square, Leeds LS2 3AD UK Satellite Events 2014

Tickets: £5 waged/£3 unwaged, pay on the door. To reserve a place, please e-mail

As the economic crisis has made itself felt, increasing numbers of people have resorted to food banks. According to the Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest provider of food banks, the number of parcels it has handed out has risen from 61,468 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.

However, the Department for Work and Pensions claims that the rise in food bank use is a matter not of increased need or demand but of supply - that as the number of food banks has risen sharply, so there is more opportunity to use them - a claim backed up controversially by Welfare minister Lord Freud and former minister Edwina Currie.

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 - the ‘Big Society’ in action.

But is there something else going on too? Has something changed in our communities that makes some people more open today to accepting charity. And while all seem to agree that food banks don’t solve the problem of poverty, are the proposed solutions any better? What does the increase in food banks really say about the UK’s economy and society?

Organised by Leeds Salon. Visit the Leeds Salon website for further information.

Richard Bridge
outreach adviser, Citizens Advice

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

Anne Danks
The Trussell Trust

Justine Brian
director, Debating Matters Competition

Produced by
Paul Thomas civil servant; qualified FE teacher; organiser, Leeds Salon
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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