This blog reflects on the landscape of food provision before and during the pandemic, as well as the need for sustainable, affordable food models moving forward.
“What next for our food banks?” This is a question that, from day one of Feeding Britain’s creation six years ago, we have asked on an almost daily basis. Through the 30 regional partnerships we have across Scotland, England, and Wales, Feeding Britain now represents more than 500 grassroots organisations. Across that network there is a shared determination to halt, reduce, and ultimately eliminate the emergency need for food banks in our country, by ensuring everyone is able to access, afford, and prepare the food they need without having to sacrifice other essentials.
Before the pandemic
When Feeding Britain was created, back in 2015, food banks told us that their focus was on people with deep-seated, long-term problems, who had often fallen through the cracks in statutory services. They wanted to give the limited resources they had to people in those situations. But increasingly, they were supporting growing numbers of people, year on year, who should have had an adequate income from work and/or the benefits system. Those food banks wanted to work with Feeding Britain and support ideas for minimising demand from that latter group.
‘In the first few years we made up and gave out few bags, no more than 200 a year, and this was to support those who weren’t coping with family life, were ill, abandoned, addicted or with mental health problems, and the small number adjusting to unemployment and crisis, but since then there has been a strong structural change that has entrapped far larger numbers’. (Quote from a food bank)
During the pandemic
The situation since March 2020 can be described as a ‘Social Dunkirk’ of an emergency response. For practically all of our partners, their number one priority was to shore up or bolster their last line of defence against destitution by sourcing, storing, packing, and distributing emergency food boxes and cooked meals to almost anyone who asked for help.
It soon became apparent that the need for this emergency service derived both from a loss of work and a lack of income, as well as a whole range of issues around access and isolation that had been exacerbated by the pandemic. But the sudden outpouring of goodwill, generosity, and sheer guts and determination kept that emergency service going.
Yet in recent months, we’ve entered a new phase. Our partners are telling us that the giving of free food parcels on this scale cannot be maintained forever, and nor should it be. They’ve told us that it is not sustainable for them and it’s anything but for the families we all seek to serve.
And so a key part of Feeding Britain’s strategy for supporting people as we come out of the pandemic is the development of affordable food networks at the heart of each community. They have been proven to build resilience and prevent hunger, by offering both nutritious food at a fraction of its usual price in a dignified environment, and providing holistic support to households who are struggling but have not yet reached a crisis point.
Our aim is to ease at least some of the pressure on households who are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table, but to do so before the need for food banks or food parcels arises. The affordable food networks set up and supported by Feeding Britain to date are saving more than 5,000 households a collective annual total of £2.1 million on their food shopping. And we are working with our partners on extending that layer of protection to tens of thousands more households in the months ahead.
Each affordable food network seeks to encourage self-reliance, achieve long-term self-sufficiency, and offer a sense of choice, dignity, and mutual support, while simultaneously providing a platform for systemic change. Indeed, the recommendations we’ve presented to Government over the past three years, based on that evidence, have gained £2.5 billion in additional spending commitments for anti-poverty measures.
We hope that this movement from relief, to recovery, to resilience may guide at least some of our answers to the question, ‘What next for our food banks?’.
Inspired by this blog? You can find out more about Feeding Britain’s affordable food networks here.
If you are interested in setting up an affordable food project and would like information on available resources and support, contact Rose.Bray@feedingbritain.org