The State of Hunger: can we end the need for food banks in the UK?

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A blog post by
Emma Revie
Chief Executive  

‘I was receiving one type of disability benefit and got on OK with that, but then I was told I had to apply for a new kind. I struggled to get the medical evidence I needed in time because I had a new doctor, and then it was decided I didn’t qualify – even though my condition itself hasn’t changed at all. I usually have to choose between buying food and having heating, but until I got my food bank voucher today I didn’t have either.’

This person should never have needed to come to a food bank. Getting the right support to someone changing disability benefits, long before they’re anywhere near needing a food bank, is absolutely within our power as a country.

In fact, getting the right support to anyone, long before they’re anywhere near needing a food bank, is absolutely within our power as a country.

And yet last year, food banks in the Trussell Trust network distributed a record 1.6 million emergency food parcels throughout the UK – a 19% year-on-year increase in demand.  In a society like ours that values justice and compassion, it is an affront to us all that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are referred to food banks.

Dealing with accelerating numbers of people referred, the Trussell Trust faces a choice: either build the best network of food banks we possibly can to keep meeting this spiralling demand; or instead address the reasons why so many people end up coming through the doors of food banks without enough money for the absolute essentials.

We have chosen the latter path.

That’s why yesterday we launched a three-year research programme: The State of Hunger. This research will act as a benchmark not just for our charity, but for government and wider society to better understand the structural issues that sweep so many into poverty and destitution.  The better we understand the nature and scale of this problem, the easier it will be to fix it.

Ultimately, the State of Hunger will be a vital tool if we are to truly end hunger and poverty in the UK.

The focus of our first full report, published this autumn, will be on the experiences and demographics of the people referred to us and the pathways that they take to reach us. By understanding those pathways and how they change over the years, the Trussell Trust, central government, local councils, referral organisations and wider civil society will be better equipped to change the systems that create them – pathways that currently sweep so many people into poverty and hunger. We know we can end hunger in the UK.  We won’t be able to do it alone. To succeed, we are going to need to work alongside many other charities, policy makers, businesses and individuals to create long term change.

But the point is – it can be done. 1.6m food bank parcels to people in the last year doesn’t have to be our new normal – this can change.