How to Reduce the Use of Food Banks

By Simon Hawking

How do you feel about the existence of food banks in the UK?

The Trussell Trust’s long-term goal to end the need for food banks is one that the general public agrees with: 77% think that food banks should not be needed in the UK. 93% that everyone should be able to buy enough food for themselves and their family. (YouGov).

Acts Trust has been running Lincoln Foodbank (part of the Trussell Trust’s network) since 2008 and unlike our other great projects, our food bank is one that we’d rather diminish and support less people, because there’s no longer a need for it.

Lincoln Foodbank’s van collected almost 80 tonnes of food in Lincoln last year

But how do you reach that ambition? What does a food bank free City look like in the UK in the 2020s?

This is indeed a complex question which has the danger to divide people and has the risk of being a political hot potato.

But at the core of the question is this: no one should have to go hungry. The UK is currently the world’s 6th largest economy. In 2019 we spent 20.5% of our GPD on welfare – the 17th highest of all countries (OECD).

What is happening?

In Lincoln, we noticed a significant rise in the number of households turning to food banks during the lock down of 2020 and 2021. Again, in 2023 as the ‘cost of living crisis’ hit, there was again another sharp increase which peaked in April 2023. During this peak, approximately 1 in every 200 people in the City ate a meal provided by a foodbank.

It’s clear that external (national and global) factors have a huge part to play in the financial wellbeing of families.

As a local charity it’s hard to discern what we can do to influence such factors, if anything at all. Certainly, it is our job to ‘speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves’ (one of my favourite Proverbs, 31:8-9) so it is important that we speak up and challenge issues or decisions when it is right to do so.

More locally, there may be other approaches that we can take which are more within our control.

During 2022 and 2023, I chaired a task group as part of the Greater Lincolnshire Food Partnership that explored this very question; what can be done on a local level which might support people in such a way that the number of households turning to food banks reduces?

Income Maximisation

We support the Guarantee our Essentials campaign, led by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust who are calling for an Essentials Guarantee within Universal Credit, which means the basic rate at least covers life’s essentials and that support can never be pulled below that level.

Additionally we are working with Citizen’s Advice through a Trussell Trust funded financial inclusion initiative which places an advisor in the food banks to help people check if they are receiving all the support they are entitled to.

Alternative Support

In October 2021 we launched Lincoln Community Grocery in partnership with The Message Trust as a ‘next step’ for families who might have otherwise turned to a food bank. Using food stocks that are classed as ‘surplus’ or at risk of being wasted, members can shop our range of fresh and ambient food for as little as £5, leaving with a basket worth around 4 times that value.

Education

It’s essential to provide holistic support; food won’t solve food poverty! Supporting people to drill down to the root of the problem empowers then to overcome. Our Restore Programme has a syllabus of courses which focus on some of the most common roots:

  • CAP Job Club – supporting people with employability
  • CAP Money Coaching – building healthy habits with budgeting skills
  • Life: Ready – focussing on essential life skills
  • WRAP – empowering people to create their own wellbeing recovery action plans

Working in partnership with other likeminded organisations creates a framework in which people can thrive and not feel alone to face their challenges.

Understanding User Habits

It’s crucial we don’t use our imagination to create people’s ‘back story’. Every person’s journey and circumstances are unique. We can never truly understand the choices people have to make by simply looking at statistics. Relationship building and trust is so important. That’s why most of our food banks are connected to churches who run wellbeing cafes or other support groups. These are places where people will find a listening ear.

Wellbeing

It’s important to recognise the impact that food insecurity can have on wellbeing. Providing a caring, empathetic and listening response to people accessing food banks is essential. Stress, anxiety and depression are motivating factors in the ‘vicious cycle’ which can lead to low self esteem, low motivation and ultimately can lead to failure. We need to be mindful of each other’s wellbeing and provide encouragement to those who are struggling.

Greater Public Awareness

Promoting the work of food banks helps to increase awareness of the support available, to those who are struggling. It also helps to attract those who might support through volunteering or by donating. However, raising awareness of the issues that lead to food poverty shine a light on the issues that we shouldn’t tolerate as a society which can help create a pathway towards change.

Working with Referrers

Referrers are those people at the frontline of supporting people experiencing food poverty. It is based on their judgement as to whether a referral to a food bank is necessary, and their approach as to whether the referral is made. It’s important that referrers are empowered to know the options available to them to support someone. Sometimes this goes ‘beyond food’. Raising awareness of additional support is essential. For example, money courses, job clubs, wellbeing groups. We believe in the ‘No Wrong Door‘ approach; no matter who you approach for help, you’ve not come to the wrong door, if we work hard behind the scenes to be connected – for effective signposting.

Building Community

People shouldn’t have to face challenges alone. Being part of a positive community, such as a church’s friendship or wellbeing group helps people to talk, connect with others and realise they are not on their own. People are more likely to succeed if they have others around them, encouraging and cheering them on.

If you find yourself in need of support, don’t hesitate to talk with us!

If you’d like to support our work, please consider a donation!

We are always looking for people who are inspired to join our mission. Would you consider volunteering with us?

EMPOWERING PEOPLE TO END POVERTY

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