It was very encouraging to see the publication a couple of weeks ago of “Feeding Britain”, the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into hunger in the UK. Media attention to the growing demand on Foodbanks, and occasional government questions regarding the real needs had prompted the Archbishop of Canterbury in his role as a member of the House of Lords to commission the inquiry. The Inquiry sought to identify the circumstances behind the rising numbers requiring emergency food assistance, to consider the effectiveness of provision and make recommendations regarding improvement of food security.
At one level the findings of the inquiry were nothing new to those of us involved in running Luton Foodbank. Our own analysis of the reasons people give for asking for food was pretty much identical to those found nationwide: a delay or error in processing & payment of benefits; sometimes heavy-handed issuing of benefits sanctions by Job Centre Plus; sudden loss of earnings; absence of free school meals; accumulation of debt; or even the loss or theft of a purse. However the report’s particular value lies not so much in its affirmation of the need we experience on the ground, but bringing that need into the context of the national scene, and a thorough analysis of the underlying causes of food poverty.
the loss [in post war years] of margin of income over the costs of housing, utilities and food makes it very hard for families to survive a financial crisis
It suggests that for many the buffers to food poverty – family life, social networks, friendship groups, a self-help infrastructure, the glue that holds a society together – are simply not there for many of the most vulnerable.
However probably the most important part of the report is the series of recommendations made to government and society as to what needs to be done to attain a hunger-free UK. The bold attempt to review the fundamental values that led to the creation of a welfare state, and to propose ways to renew that in contemporary Britain has to be very welcome. Medium term proposals for “Foodbank Plus”, where the service of the foodbank extends beyond the provision of a number of bags of food, reflect the regular discussions of our Luton Foodbank Board as we look at how we can make our work more effective. However some proposals went way beyond our scope: a “Feeding Britain network”; proposals for regional networking and developing cooperation by public, private and voluntary groups to eliminate hunger; legislation and structures to make distribution of fresh surplus food and supermarket food waste possible; and serious independent examination of reasons for benefit delays etc. It also widened its focus to issues that go along with food poverty such as the disproportionately high costs of utilities for the poor, and debt and high cost credit.
As I read the report in the context of Luton Foodbank and our own town, it was interesting to reflect on one of our strongest commitments from the beginning as we developed it. We wanted Luton Foodbank to be gathering food from all in the town, served by all parts of our community, and providing food for all in need. We have actively sought to work with schools, mosques, unions, churches, Gurdwaras, whoever we can find, and by that to do our part to make a Luton more united. Food contributed by a Muslim food drive, sorted by someone of no particular faith commitment working alongside a Christian, and distributed by a Hindu is the norm for us, as are many other variations! By doing that we are contributing part of the glue that will make for a hunger free nation, and that glue will last long beyond the need for Luton Foodbank!
The full report and all the evidence gathered in the inquiry can be found here.