Is a Future Without Foodbanks Possible?

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“Austerity economics and a global pandemic has entrenched foodbanks as a staple in the landscape of the UK voluntary sector.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 15/06/2020 [Online] Available: https://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/fp/ewan-gurr-foodbanks-15th-birthday-is-bittersweet-celebration/  [Accessed: 2020, Jun 16]  

Approximately 15 years ago – in June 2005 – I helped establish Dundee Foodbank. It was a small operation founded initially in the room of a Hilltown church and run by a handful of volunteers with the expectation of being a short-term venture. However, a decade of austerity economics and a global pandemic has entrenched foodbanks as a staple in the landscape of the voluntary sector providing support to people in need. I, therefore, find myself unsure whether to celebrate or to commiserate this milestone.

Last week, I spoke to my successor at Dundee Foodbank, Ken Linton, who has been leading the organisation as project manager now for almost five years. Despite the set of circumstances he finds himself in, he remains positive. He said: “The generosity of the public has been so outstanding that we had to secure a second warehouse.” Less positively, however, he added: “We provided food to 687 men, women and children in May 2019 but, during the same period this year, it was 770 – a 12% increase.”

The Trussell Trust recently reported a 62% annual increase in food parcels provided to families with children in Scotland against figures from last year. Commenting on the lower annual increase in Dundee, Ken said the need is less pronounced due to Dundee Food Insecurity Forum – a group established in March 2020 by Faith in Community Dundee and comprising 27 organisations. He speaks warmly of the co-ordinated response to support people experiencing poverty in Dundee.

Post-pandemic responses were recognised in a briefing released by the Poverty and Inequality Commission last week, which stated: “The Scottish Government should be learning from the experiences of how central government, local authorities and community organisations have come together and rapidly co-ordinated efforts to ensure that emergency food provision needs are met.” The briefing also highlighted, however, that 80% of the 211 respondents felt they were not meeting all of the need.

The challenge in all of this is that a future free from food insecurity appears less likely than ever. Polly Jones, the new Head of The Trussell Trust in Scotland, said to me last week: “Before the pandemic hit, we committed to ending the need for foodbanks in Scotland and the UK.” She adds: “This remains our goal but the evidence suggests this is will be harder as increasing numbers of people struggle to make ends meet in the face of rising unemployment and an inadequate social security safety net.”

Seven years ago, Derek Marshall – the chair of Dundee Foodbank and now a trustee of The Trussell Trust – at one of the first foodbank conferences in Scotland, said: “Foodbanks will only be a success when the last one closes its door.” The fifteenth birthday of Dundee Foodbank may not be cause for celebration but I will keep the dram on ice for a future I still believe in – a future free from poverty.

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