Magazine article The Spectator

All Credit to the Food Banks

Magazine article The Spectator

All Credit to the Food Banks

Article excerpt

The charities should be a source of pride - not shame.

The very existence of food banks is taken as proof of something rotten in Britain. If Brits are queuing for charity food parcels, the state has failed. Labour MPs brim with righteous anger: they call the rise of these charitable centres a 'scandal'.

David Cameron, for his part, wishes people would stop talking about them. The political consensus is that having anyone depend on charity handouts is a disgrace.

But that's not what those who use the food banks think. Nor is it an opinion shared by those who run them. The Trussell Trust, now the biggest food bank provider, regards its growth as a sign of success. Standing in a warehouse crammed with tinned food, the Trust's chief executive Chris Mould says his mission is to open a food bank in every town in the country. 'They are an emergency intervention that costs society far less than the problems that would arise further down the line, ' he says. 'Family breakdown, debt, crime and mental illness.' It's not as if the government is offering any better solutions.

Food banks are not soup kitchens, nor a sign of a society gone bad. In fact, their emergence ought to be seen as a sign of how strong Britain's social fabric is. The real scandal, according to those who run food banks, is that that they haven't been around for longer. They exist as a sticking plaster, usually to help families who have been allocated welfare but are waiting for the bureaucracy to process the payments. They are an emergency support in towns and cities. Without them, families would go hungry for days. Their existence is not a sign of poverty, but an indication that a welfare state with six million people on its books can get things wrong.

People don't just wander in for a meal.

Every client is referred by charity case workers, Jobcentres or social services and receives three food bank vouchers for three days' worth of meals. Only in exceptional circumstances is food offered for longer.

Walking through their doors are mothers who are left with no money to feed their children after an unexpected bill, or out-ofwork labourers waiting for their benefits to come through, whether due to a glitch in the system or because their entitlement is being recalculated.

And poverty? Just one in five of those helped by food banks cite low income, and one in six mention benefit changes. There are abused women, families stricken with debt problems or overwhelmed in the holidays when there are no free school meals to tide them over. Many of the problems food banks deal with were deeply ingrained before the downturn struck. …

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