Think you know about foodbanks and the people who use them? Think again.
Kayleigh Garthwaite’s book , Hunger Pains, challenges some of the biggest foodbank myths.
Here are the top 10…
1. Anyone can turn up and get a food parcel
You need a red voucher to get food, given to you by a frontline care professional who has identified you as being in need. It is likely that many people in food poverty who are outside of the ‘system’ aren’t getting help.
“If somebody does come in and say “Can I have some food?” you can say “Have you got a voucher?” as that’s the rules.” Foodbank volunteer
2. Foodbanks provide baked beans, biscuits and other unhealthy food
Each food parcel provides three days of non-perishable food and is designed by dieticians. Parcels often include an A4 photocopied menu guide. People don’t just take what they want from unending rows of shelves. ‘Kettle boxes’ and cold boxes are provided for those who have no cooking facilities.
“I haven’t had my fridge or cooker switched on for three weeks, I can’t afford the electric.” Jessica
3. Using a foodbank is a lifestyle choice
Statistics show the primary causes of referral to a Trussell Trust foodbank – by far – are benefit delays, low income and benefit changes (Hunger Pains, page 82). People are not turning to foodbanks out of choice. There is a proven link between foodbank use and welfare reform which the government consistently denies (Hunger Pains, page 43).
4. Foodbank users are unemployed ‘scroungers’
Needing emergency food aid is an extreme manifestation of poverty. Over half of people below the official poverty line in the UK are in working families. The book proves that there is no such thing as a typical foodbank user.
“I didn’t sign on for ages, I was just hoping I’d get a job. I was living off my savings and then next thing there was nothing left.” Denise
5. Foodbank volunteers are mostly left-wing ‘do gooders’
Foodbanks are often situated inside churches so many Trussell Trust volunteers are practising Christians. Of these, 48% are likely to have voted Conservative (Hunger Pains, page 29). Whatever their political leaning, volunteers have a genuine desire to help people in their community, some having been foodbank users themselves.
6. Foodbank use is growing because Jobcentres are advertising them
In fact, only 2-5% of foodbank users are referred by benefits advisors, according to Trussell Trust figures.
7. There are no emotional consequences of using a foodbank
People aren’t just taking food parcels and walking away without a second thought. The stories in the book make it painfully clear that using a foodbank involves feelings of desperation, shame, hopelessness and failure. On top of this, users must deal with stigmatisation and judgement from wider society.
“I said to Glen “Get inside, don’t let no one see us”, cos obviously we’d never had to go anywhere like that before.” Tracey
8. People in poverty shouldn’t be entitled to luxuries
Edwina Curry famously said: “I get very, very troubled at the number of people who are using food banks who think it’s fine to pay to feed their dog… and the moment they’ve got a bit of spare cash they’re off getting another tattoo.” Why should comfort and choice be a privilege of the wealthy? The denial of a right to choice or to have ‘treats’, often used as a coping mechanism, strips away basic human dignity (Hunger Pains, page 68).
9. We have an accurate picture of the number of people who live with food poverty
The UK government does not collect data on people living with food insecurity (Hunger Pains, page 58). The only figure we have are those collated by the Trussell Trust which, while useful, is unlikely to represent the complete picture. New UN data show that an estimated 8.4 million people, the equivalent of entire population of London, were living in households reporting having insufficient food in the UK in 2014.
10. Foodbanks are an acceptable part of the welfare system
While foodbanks are a vital resource and provide a lifeline for many, we must not let them be a substitute for the changes to policy and society that need to come. We need government intervention, to stop stigmatising people who live in poverty, and to listen to the people using the foodbanks. Through this there will be hope for change.
Interested in the realities of foodbank use and what their future should be? In London on the 29th June? Join Jack Monroe, Patrick Buter, MPs and representatives from leading organisations at a panel discussion event based on the book. Places are limited so reserve yours now on Eventbrite.
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