Food banks: an unpalatable truth

If there is one charity that clearly demonstrates the skewed society we now live in, it would be the food bank.

The Trussell Trust, which oversees 424 food banks in the UK said it gave out enough emergency food to feed more than 1.1 million people in 2015-16, an increase on the previous year.

Closer to home, an accountancy company in Truro made a sizeable contribution to their local food bank over the festive period – used by a staggering 2,000 people. Volunteers at the Helston and Lizard Food Bank also delivered 40 hampers to those in need at Christmas.

Looking at recent figures, it appears the reliance on charity food is in danger of becoming the ‘new normal’ for low-income families in crisis. The main reported reasons for food bank use are problems with the welfare system, such as slow processing and benefit payments, low incomes and rising household debt.

Although I am full of admiration for people who give up their time to work in food banks, it would obviously be preferable for them to have no reason to exist at all. Food banks are a symptom of society’s failure and should never become an acceptable part of our culture.

As the media regularly reminds us some people will be far from poverty while living on benefits, yet many are not able to pay for the basic essentials. It doesn’t help that the government appears to have a policy that food banks should step in when our welfare safety net fails.

In addition, recent tax cuts for the wealthy (in the form of higher tax thresholds and lower capital gains tax) will result with an average £250 gain for some each year, while the poorest fifth of households will lose an average of £550 per annum.

I traditionally spend Christmas night sat in front of the TV unable to move having eaten far too much. Yet reading about the rise of food banks ensured it was not only my stomach that made me feel uncomfortable. Like millions of others I do make contributions to charity but could always do more, and it’s worth remembering that the issue of food banks requires a much more complex solution than me donating a tin of beans.

Is it right that in a civilised society 40 Helston families needed food hampers to see them through Christmas while thousands more struggled to fit all their food into the fridge?

I can’t help but think emergency food aid should remain just that – for emergencies only. Food banks can never be allowed to have a permanent place in our society.

And for anyone who may be happy to turn a blind eye to the growing problem of food banks, it may be worth remembering that most of us are just one pay cheque away from our own potential crisis.

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