‘Tis the Season…For Shocking Increases In Food Bank Reliance

Following a successful trial last Summer, supermarket giant Sainsbury’s are relaunching a new initiative designed to encourage increased donations to local food banks. The idea – coming from a group of teenagers in Exeter doing an NCS project – is to have shelf-edge labels which alert shoppers to products that are most useful to food banks; tinned fish, meat and long-lasting fruit juice to name a few. The scheme had great success in its initial trial period in increasing donations three-fold as customers were reminded to pick up donations while they shopped as opposed to at the till once they’d already finished. The hope is that the labels will have the same positive effect in all of Sainsbury’s thousands of branches across the country.

The initiative, though undoubtedly to be applauded, is a sad reminder of the depressing situation facing thousands of families across the UK who will be relying on food banks this Christmas. Last December, the Trussell Trust’s 400 plus food banks rolled out 160 000 three-day emergency food supplies; representing a 49% increase on the monthly average for the rest of that year. Similar, if not greater, effects are expected this year as families feel the strain of the holiday period combined with the problems that are continuing to be created by the government’s controversial Universal Credit program.

Universal Credit has faced widespread criticism since it was first introduced in 2013. Marketed as bringing ‘fairness and simplicity’ to our welfare system, roll outs of Universal Credit appears to be directly correlating with increases in poverty and greater reliance on food banks. Universal Credit is a lump-sum which combines 6 (previously) separate welfare payment that recipients generally get on a monthly basis. In theory, the system advocates greater simplicity for payees but in practise it has been putting more strain on families struggling with budgeting, not receiving sufficient funds to cover their needs and delayed payments also causing further problems. Add to this The Independent’s recent revelation that more than half of families who have been denied Universal Credit were found to be entitled to it when their cases were properly investigated, and you have the perfect recipe for a welfare crisis.

While Westminster continues to quarrel amongst itself over backstops and no-deals, it feels that this is a conveniently-timed distraction from the fact that their ‘revolutionary’ welfare program simply isn’t working. It is not acceptable that so many are still suffering in a country that consistently finds itself in the top 5 ‘richest’ in the world. Frankly, it is embarrassing that the government is relying on a group of teenagers in Exeter to help Britain’s struggling families for them. Criticism from the UN and a four-fold increase in food bank usage in areas the policy is in practise hasn’t gotten their attention. This leads one to wonder: What will it take for something different to be done?


Isabel Ralphs

[Image: The Independent]