Approximately 14 million people in the UK are living below the poverty line, including 4.5 million children.
The reality is some families in the UK have been left struggling to choose between paying bills and eating. In the last five years food bank usage has increased by 75 per cent, and more people than ever are also having to use baby banks, too.
And this has only been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen a rise in period poverty too.
The Trussell Trust charity distributed 1.6 million three-day emergency food supplies to people across the UK between April 2018 and April 2019 via their 1200 food banks.
Schools too are taking on increasing welfare responsibilities of their pupils and families.
According to a 2018 survey carried out by The National Governance Association (NGA), the number of food banks in schools is steadily increasing. The survey of 6,000 school governors found 8% were operating in schools which had food banks – up from 7 per cent the previous year.
A similar 2018 study carried out by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) of 407 secondary schools in England and Wales found pupil poverty had increased with 43 per cent of schools providing food banks or food parcels for pupils and their families.
What is a food bank and how do they work?
Food banks provide additional support to those facing a crisis. Food banks provide free nutritionally balanced, tinned and dried food to low-income families hit by an unexpected crisis such as redundancy, unexpected bills or reduced working hours.
The Trussell Trust food banks charity has launched 1200 food banks nationwide. The first one was opened in Salisbury in 2000 and operated from a garden shed.
As well a providing food, food banks provide practical support to people to help address the underlying causes of their financial situation, such as running holiday clubs for kids to budgeting courses to help people avoid poverty in the future.
People donate non-perishable food and food bank volunteers then sort it and pack into emergency boxes.
How do I find food banks near me?
Visit the Trussell Trust’s website to find your nearest food bank at www.trusselltrust.org/map by entering your postcode or nearest town. If you are unable to travel to your local food bank due to transport costs, you can call them and check if they can deliver your food parcel.
There are also a number of private/independent food banks – these are run by local churches or charities. You may find them advertised in your local paper and usually you can visit one of these without a referral. FoodCycle helps connect people within their local community to help reduce food waste and poverty. Like food banks they are maintained and run by volunteers who usually have arrangements with local supermarkets to cook food for the homeless and poor. There are 40 locations around the UK. FairShare is a charity which uses food that would otherwise be wasted at the manufacturing end of the chain and gives it away to the homeless and poor. Donors include Sainsbury’s and Nestle.
FairShare are just one of the organisations who have seen demand rise since MPs chose to vote against free meals for children during the half-term holidays, up until Easter 2021.
How to get a food bank referral
Some food banks don’t require a referral but the majority require food bank vouchers, in order to use them.
You can get a food bank voucher from a front line professional, such as a doctor, social worker, adviser at Citizens Advice Bureau or police. Your nearest Citizens Advice can often refer you if you do not have contact with the police, doctor or a social worker. They will ask you about your circumstances, income and needs, and will ask if it is just you that needs food or if you also have a family to feed.
You can get up to three vouchers (only one at a time) for any one crisis, giving you a total of 9 days worth of food.
A voucher can be exchanged for 3 days of emergency food at a food bank distribution centre.
You can be referred to a food bank for lots of different reasons – but it can be difficult to get a voucher unless you are facing extreme circumstances.
According to The Trussell Trust, the primary referrals to food banks in 2018-2019 was due to income not covering the cost of essentials, changes to a person’s benefits, or delays in receiving their benefits.
You can get a food bank referral from:
- Citizens Advice Bureau
- Social worker
You might get a food bank referral if:
- You’ve been made redundant or have reduced working hours
- Unexpected bills have left you with no money
- A change in your circumstances has affected your entitlement to benefit or the reduced the amount you receive
- A payment of benefit has been delayed
- You are turned down for a crisis loan
- Ill health
- Domestic abuse
- You have a low-income or are in debt
Food banks without referral: can you go to one without a referral?
The Citizens Advice Bureau explain that you can visit an independent local food bank without a referral, but if there aren’t any local to you, you’ll need to get a referral.
How can you become a food bank volunteer?
According to The Trussell Trust there are more than 40,000 food bank volunteers operating across the UK.
Food bank donations – Find your local food banks and call them to ask what they need most and where to drop it off. Your food bank donations are vital during school summer holidays with figures showing 87,496 food parcels went to children in the UK during the summer holidays in 2018 – a 20% increase on summer of 2017.
Food bank volunteers – Become a food bank volunteer at your local food bank. Find out more information on their website – call or email them to find out more. Volunteers can help out by sorting and packaging food parcels, or
Donate money – If you don’t have time to donate then you can always donate money. Either directly or via the Trussell Trust’s website.
Have you ever used or helped out at a food bank? Tell us about your experiences in the comments box below.