A downturn in the economy and the resulting job and benefit cut backs have pushed more families under the poverty line than ever before and now record numbers of families are using food banks to help see them through the storm. In the last 12 months, a staggering one in six general practitioners has referred a patient to a food bank for assistance because they were unable to meet their own or their families nutritional needs. Shockingly, even though we have now surpassed the first decade of the 21st century, diagnoses’ of malnutrition have almost doubled in only five years and GP’s even seeing some patients who are suffering diseases resulting from a lack of decent food. The problem has become so bad that many GP surgeries now have vouchers to their local food bank, which they can give to clients in need.

Why Do People Use Food Banks?

Food banks can be associated with homeless people but they only make up a tiny proportion of the people who benefit from food banks. Benefit reforms have left some people without enough money for food while they wait for their benefit to be re-calculated or they try to manage on a newly restricted budget. Extra financial commitments, such as finding more rent money after the ‘bedroom tax’, has left the poorest of society (such as pensioners and the disabled) in the position of having to choose between paying rent or eating. This has prompted some to adopt a ration approach to feeding themselves and their loved ones.

But it isn’t just about people who are relying on state benefits – working people have felt the bite too due to job redundancies, a lack of available jobs as employers tighten the purse strings and wages that are too low for the soaring costs that are faced by British residents. While wages have stayed stagnant, food prices have risen dramatically. Now, just popping to the shop for a few items you have run out of may well end up costing you £30 or more. Food banks have sometimes been given a bad press for encouraging dependency but the real problem may be subsistence wages that don’t cover the living costs of the average family and bare bones pension schemes that are barely enough for senior citizens to live on. Since the ‘credit crunch’ and the collapse of national and international banks, some older individuals have found that they have to postpone their retirement or that the pension scheme they saved with for years has gone bust, leaving them without a pension after years of service in their jobs. Changes in financial circumstances have led to debts for others. Often, people in debt aren’t having difficulty due to irresponsibility. They may have unexpectedly lost their employment, become ill or had extra expenses they hadn’t accounted for. While it’s obvious to think that if bad luck happens you can always rely on the benefits system, it doesn’t always work very well in reality with people waiting weeks for an answer or being refused altogether and with mounting bills and childcare fees it can simply be too expensive to eat properly. Addictions to smoking or drinking may be another cause as the person becomes too unwell to work or wages are swallowed up to provide for the habit – although this issue generally receives a cold reception from the public, addiction is an illness that can creep up on someone gradually over time and it affects every member of their family.

The Inflated Price of Food

The UK government say that everyone should have five portions of fruit and vegetables a day (this includes drinks) in order to have the best chance for optimal health. Back in the 1960s and 70s this would have been easy to achieve as towns were awash with cheap and affordable local produce, available at corner shops, grocery stores and the market. Frozen products and ‘ready meals’ were a novelty and they cost more money than simply buying your ingredients fresh and making a meal from scratch. Now the situation has reversed, with fruit, veg and other essential ingredients costing so much combined that it is easier to buy a tin of spaghetti hoops or go to the fish and chip shop for your tea. To follow guidelines to be healthy, you also need a healthy wallet.

Food Banks for a Healthier Community

If you’ve found your wallet isn’t stretching enough and you are struggling to afford healthy produce for your family, that’s where food banks like Food Aware can help you meet those costs. Food Aware is different from some of the other food banks out there because we collect unwanted food that has been over-stocked and re-distribute it to people that really need it. We offer healthy food to our clients, such as apples, cucumbers, tomatoes and pepper so that families feeling the pinch can afford to cook and eat real food. We make sure surplus food is never wasted, helping to tackle environmental damage and to ease the burden on landfill sites while assisting you in protecting your loved ones from malnutrition. We have many food projects across South Yorkshire and Humber so if you need help, contact us today.

Article published by

Jenni Halton