You see it’s all the fault of ‘the other lot.’ The growth in foodbanks is all due to the wicked tories, or it’s because the last labour government spent all the money, or they’re all scroungers anyway. (Delete as your current political allegiance dictates.
But it’s worth taking a look at the embarrassing details. In the UK, the impetus to found the first Foodbank, the Salisbury Foodbank, came in 2000. The UK Foodbank Network was formed in 2004. Now these didn’t just spring into operation and then go round wondering if there were people who needed feeding. You don’t start a Foodbank in a town and by that one act create a pool of desperate people who come to you for food. The demand is there, the Foodbank is formed to meet a demand that people in that area have noticed. The need for the Salisbury Foodbank was there long before 2000.
In the UK the Trussell Trust now has 420 Foodbanks. These actually work out of about 1200 centres, so a Foodbank in a city can have a couple of extra distribution centres so people don’t have to travel too far at their own expense.
There are other independent Foodbanks that are not affiliated to the Trust. Figures differ but it’s estimated that the Trust gave out 1,332,952 vouchers last year.
In comparison the Germans have over 900 Foodbanks and according to the latest figures I can find, in 2014, 1.5 million people a week used Foodbanks in Germany. Again, it looks as if about 3.5 million people rely on Foodbanks in France.
The number of Foodbanks in Germany
The figures aren’t directly comparable, a lot of French Foodbanks seem to provide hot meals rather than just food, and German Foodbanks look to be a lot larger.
But one thing is obvious. A phenomenon that started in the 1990s in the UK, Germany and other countries, isn’t just something you can blame on one UK party. After all, the three main parties have been in power, alone or in coalition, during that period and none of them actually bothered to do anything to deal with the issue.
The problem is far deeper. Some of it might be that political parties and movements have become fixated on systems and have largely ignored real people. Some of it might be that our political elite are so cut off from the real world at the Foodbank door, that they assume that if you just put money in the appropriate government budget, then the problem is solved. Whether the money is used well or badly, spent on the poor or frittered away on consultants and staff bonuses isn’t an issue they’ve ever considered to be important.
Perhaps it’s ‘globalisation’; perhaps it’s the fact that the EU drove austerity?
And the solution? Well at the moment the only people who’re actually doing anything about it are the volunteers in the Foodbanks. In churches up and down the country, or in rooms that have been begged or rented, volunteers and a miniscule number of paid staff are taking the strain.
Whilst politicians are happy to blame it on their political opponents; the churches and other bodies are actually doing something to help.
Whilst a political elite pontificates, I for one would respect them more if they just shut up and put in a shift, anonymously helping in the warehouse.
What is it Tolkien said?
“This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great.”
Just tell the politicians to get out of the way and let the people fix the problem.