To reach a UK without the need for food banks, we must address structural racism

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Marcia Bluck, director of diversity and inclusion 

I want to start with a disclaimer – I’m not a victim. I create my own seat at the table. But we need to acknowledge why that can be harder for some to do than others 

Last month, the Commission on Race & Ethnic Disparities’ report was published, arguing that the term ‘institutional racism’ is overused, and that while impediments and disparities do exist for people from ethnic minority backgrounds, ‘very few of them are directly to do with racism’.  

Organisations like Runnymede Trust, #CharitySoWhite and others have been leading the way in asking how this argument can be made when evidence shows us that people from racialised communities are more likely to die from Covid-19 than white ethnic groups,(1) black young mothers are four times more likely to die in childbirth than young white mothers,(2) black people are over-represented in our criminal system and more likely to get harsher sentences for the same crimes as others, and black Caribbean children are more likely to be excluded from school.(3)

So, what does this have to do with food banks?  

At the Trussell Trust, our vision is a UK without the need for food banks. We gather robust evidence about what leaves people without enough money for the basics and that shows us many people who need food banks are there because of barriers encountered due to protected characteristics like disability. Our 2019 State of Hunger research show1 in 6 people who need food banks in our network either had or lived with someone with a physical disability and 1 in 10 people have a reported learning disability or live with someone who does.(4)

State of Hunger also found that Black people are over-represented among people who need food banks compared to the UK-born working age population – something we’ve seen confirmed again through research in June and July of 2020, which showed people identifying as Black or Black British were significantly overrepresented during the Covid-19 crisis among people who need support from a food bank (9% vs 3% of the UK population).(5)

This isn’t right. 

We need to do more as an organisation to understand why there is this disproportionate risk of needing a food bank so we can work to tackle it. And that’s why meaningful equity, diversity and inclusion work is core to our mission of ending the need for food banks. If we’re to genuinely address the root causes of poverty and build a future where we all have enough money for the basics, we must ensure that diverse people with lived experiences of poverty shape our work, and do our part to help dismantle the structural discrimination that cuts across our society and locks people in poverty.

We are working on becoming a leader on equity, diversity and inclusion at the Trussell Trust. We’ve started making changes (which you can read more about here), but we’re at the beginning of a longer-term process and we have a lot more work to do. Sustainable, authentic and accountable transformation takes time. 

We’re exploring how to meaningfully embed equity, diversity and inclusion in all of our upcoming work – from equipping and creating resources for both our staff and volunteers through to programmes offering support to people who need food banks and the ways we build public will for a future where everyone has enough money for food. We also recognise that the privilege that many  have benefitted from needs to be used more - not just to challenge inequalities people face due to things like race, disability and socio-economics, but also to challenge the structures in our society that create those inequalities and lock people in poverty.   

We can become a country where no one needs a food bank. But if we’re going to get there, we need to understand the inequality so many people face in the UK today, and confront the reasons why that inequality exists on a structural level.  



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