Newcastle’s food banks, even before the pandemic, were already supporting record numbers of people. This remains to be true as we come up on a year of lockdowns that with them have brought revelations of increasing child food poverty, job insecurity and losses, and failures in the welfare system to provide meaningful support to those most in need. With this in mind, it is unsurprising that the demand for foodbank support and subsequent donations has skyrocketed. As more and more people become more and more reliant on these service for the basics of a healthy diet, the shortcomings of government and austerity measures become ever clearer.
With an increase in demand comes an inherent need for more donations of food, resources and time from the general public and supporting corporations as all over the country foodbanks are often the first line of response when it comes to dealing with the multiple issues surrounding the conditions of poverty. Often providing more than just immediate food supplies, The Trussell Trust for example aims to “unlock even more of the potential of food banks to become places of transformation where the underlying drivers of food bank use are addressed”. Becoming hubs in the community for continued support, foodbanks are quickly becoming central pillars in people’s lives, and the importance of foodbanks to all their customers can’t be overstated.
Record job losses and other effects of the pandemic have made it clearer now more than ever that there is not one singular type of customer at a foodbank – narratives surrounding those in these vulnerable positions needs changing. The tired stereotypes of the “benefit cheat” and the “careless parent” are outdated and need shifting towards analysing the root cause of the problem and thinking with compassion about what factors have led to these people being left in such a vulnerable position by the state.
If the failures of the last 10 years were not already clear, 1 in 5 of the population of this country live in poverty, with many of those being children. Government cuts have hit the poorest communities the hardest with many more people slipping below the poverty line and seeking support. This being true in one of the world’s richest countries is an absolute disgrace and highlights the continued need for donations to these vital institutions.
Whilst donating to food banks in the form of food, time, and monetary donations is an incredibly worthwhile and helpful thing to do, it is only a short-term fix to systemic issues that have haunted the poorest in society for too long now. Foodbanks should not be taken as a given in any society. If you are really looking to help, the most effective way of doing so is seriously reconsidering the impact of our votes in who gets elected to government.