UK Food Banks in 2019
Author: Lizzie Peck
One symptom of the poverty crisis in modern Britain
Food banks were never a normal part of life in Britain. Post 1945 welfare state had eradicated the need for people to go pleading for food in order to feed their children. Yet, following Coalition Government of 2010 and the subsequent Conservative Governments food banks have grown as Government policy has hammered the poorest. Even people in work are finding themselves forced to go to food banks. In this short article Lizzie Peck provides a powerful and useful summary of some of the key data.
With the 2019 general election upon us, it seems necessary to report on a subject which affects so many people: food bank usage in the UK. The Trussell Trust alone gave out a record 1.6 million 3 day emergency food bank parcels in the 2018-2019 financial year (Trussell Trust, 2019a).
What is a food bank?
The Independent Food Aid network, who have mapped independent food banks across the UK, categorise a food bank as ‘a venue which regularly gives out emergency food parcels at least once a week’ (Goodwin, 2019).
How many are there?
The issue is complicated by the fact that the UK does not have one system or organisation that runs food banks. Instead, there is the Trussell Trust, which runs the majority, at over 1200 centres (Trussell Trust, 2019). There are then at least 819 independent food banks which Sabine Goodwin of the Independent Food Aid Network has mapped, taking the total to approximately 2000 food banks. However she also estimates that there are about 3000 extra ‘non-food bank independent food aid providers’ which makes at least 5000 separate organisations that hand out food parcels to people in need (Goodwin, 2019).
What is the trend?
The Trussell Trust has documented the number of their own food banks which are in operation each year and their data shows a sharp increase in the number operating across the UK, from almost none in 2005-2006, to over 1200 in 2018-2019 (Sosenko et al. 2019).
Is there a pattern to food bank usage across the UK?
As it says in the ‘State of Hunger’ report, food bank usage has a strong link to areas suffering greater “with a strong emphasis on former industrial urban areas in the North and Midlands, some coastal towns and a range of London boroughs” (Sosenko et al. 2019).
Consistently in absolute numbers of 3 day emergency food parcels given out by the Trussell Trust, the North West ranks top out of all 12 UK official regions for the last five financial years, with 222,722 parcels in 2018-2019 (Sosenko et al. 2019). Interestingly, if you rank the regions in terms of the number of parcels per 1000 people, then Scotland comes top, with 38.73 parcels given out per 1000 people in the 2018-2019 financial year.
What do these two maps show?
The two maps from the State of Hunger report challenge the common thinking that people use food banks simply because of their availability. The maps show a strong link between destitution and food bank usage: where a local authority has a high level of deprivation, this has meant that food banks have had to open to meet a need.
Worryingly, these figures are probably the tip of the iceberg of food poverty because most food banks require a referral from a professional and there is a limit on the number of referrals an individual can have, so many people will be slipping under the radar and not getting the help they need.
Goodwin S (2019) Mapping the UK's independent food banks Independent Food Aid Network http://www.foodaidnetwork.org.uk/independent-food-banks-map (accessed 09/12/19)
Trussell Trust (2019a) https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/end-year-stats/ (accessed 10/12/19)
Trussell Trust (2019b) https://www.trusselltrust.org/what-we-do/ (accessed 09/12/19)
Butler P (2017) Report reveals scale of food bank use in the UK. The Guardian: 29th May 2017
Food Aid Network (2019) http://www.foodaidnetwork.org.uk/independent-food-banks-map (accessed 10/12/19)
Sosenko F, Littlewood M, Bramley G, Fitzpatrick S, Blenkinsopp J & Wood J (2019) State of Hunger: A study of poverty and food insecurity in the UK. Salisbury: The Trusell Trust.
The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.
UK Food Banks in 2019 © Lizzie Peck 2019.
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