Next week Parliament will be looking at a bill to measure household food insecurity. In the last year Sabine Goodwin from the Independent Food Aid Network has been working to identify independent food banks across the UK. While we now know approximately how many food banks there are, we don’t know the real extent of food poverty in the UK. That is why End Hunger UK is calling on MPs to support Emma Lewell-Buck’s Food Insecurity Bill.
In early 2017, I began to create a database of independent food banks for the Independent Food Aid Network (www.foodaidnetwork.org.uk) as it was clear that Trussell Trust (www.trusselltrust.org) parcel distribution statistics were far from telling the whole story. By then, over a million food parcels were being given out annually by the UK-wide network – but what about the food parcels, in whichever shape or size, that were helping thousands of people accessing distributors working within the independent sector?
By now I’ve identified over 700 independent food banks across the UK. As a result, we know that Trussell Trust centres – 1,235 at the last count – represent two thirds of Britain’s food banks, now totalling approximately 2,000. Independent food banks operate from churches, community halls, charity shops, businesses, cafés, housing associations and other premises the length and breadth of the country. Most of the organisations I’ve come across do in fact keep careful records of the number of parcels given out each year, the number of households they help and/or the number of adults or children that use their service – but this data isn’t collected nationally or regionally. Anecdotal parcel distribution figures let us know some of the picture, but independent food banks also use different methods and give out varying sized parcels, which prevents the robust comparisons that the Trussell Trust’s data allows.
Here’s a snapshot from around the country for 2017:
- In Aberdeen, Instant Neighbour gave out 6905 parcels;
- In Reading, Readifood gave out more than 7,000 parcels;
- The Olive Branch in Lancaster gave out approximately 2,000 food parcels;
- The Cathedral Food Bank in Bangor gave out at least 895 parcels;
- While Porch Boses in Bury delivers 450 parcels on average each month; and
- The Bradford Metropolitan Food Bank regularly gives out 950 parcels every month.
But food bank use is most certainly the tip of the food insecurity iceberg. Countless other emergency food aid providers are giving out meals and supporting people unable to afford to feed themselves and their families. The list is endless – soup kitchens, breakfast clubs, lunch clubs, community kitchens, pay-as-you-feel cafés, social supermarkets, holiday meal programmes are just some examples.
We know that 3 million people in the UK were counted as severely food insecure by the UN between 2014 and 2016 (second to Albania in Europe) and this figure can only have got higher – yet, we have no regular system of measurement and comparison in place.
With food bank use spiralling out of control and emergency food aid proliferating, this is the time for all of us to urge our MPs to support Emma Lewell-Buck’s Food Insecurity Bill. This bill will mean the regular and accurate measurement of food insecurity across the UK and is due for its second reading on February 2nd. Click here to read Emma’s introduction of the bill.
Sabine Goodwin has worked with the Independent Food Aid Network as a volunteer since February 2017. IFAN connects and advocates on behalf of independent food aid providers including food banks.