Campaigner’s plea to make food banks part of the social security system
FOOD banks should be backed with Government cash and brought under the auspices of the social security system, according to one of their pioneers in Scotland.
Mark Frankland, of Dumfries-based First Base, which gives out 4,000 food parcels a year across Dumfries and Galloway, said: “There seems to be a complete determination never to treat food banks as part of the welfare state, but 90 per cent of our referrals come from people working for the state – from Jobcentres, social workers, homeless teams.
“People say ‘we want to get rid of food banks’. But if they hadn’t been around, you might well have seen people starve.”
Frankland, who recently gave evidence at Holyrood’s Social Security Committee, said with food and child poverty expected to spike over the next five years, the Government should consider funding food banks. “That would let us put more items in a food parcels, such as fresh fruit and veg or vouchers for people who run out of power.
“If what is on offer from the DWP isn’t enough to keep body and soul together, we are there to be considered,” he said. “I don’t think the system would be abused. People generally hate walking through our doors unless they absolutely have to.”
He added: “We treat people very differently from a bureaucrat. Why is it so bad for someone to go and get a bag of food, donated by people who give a damn, rather than turning up at an office to get £10 from a grudging bureaucrat?”
However, poverty campaigners reject the suggestion that emergency food parcels should become one of the elements of on offer from the welfare state. Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said: “We support food banks, I give to them myself all the time. But no matter how much food banks are needed they are not a sufficient response. If our response to poverty becomes less based on security and people’s rights and more to do with charitable giving and donations, that is likely to be stigmatising.”
He said he had “maximum” respect for all those running food banks and volunteering at them, but said: “It is part of the response, but
needs to be time-limited. It is a temporary response to crisis, not a mainstream response to a systemic problem.”
Polly Jones, project manager of Menu for Change, which argues for alternatives to emergency food aid, said: “People running food banks do it out of the best intentions. They are trying to step up and help. But the idea it should be pulled in as part of our universal social security system is the wrong approach.
“We need to make social security systems work better and fix the holes in the safety net first.
“If food banks worked, people wouldn’t go back again, but, in fact, the vast majority using food banks do return, at least once.”
Frankland also claimed people on low incomes were being hardhit by price rises from major supermarkets, which he accused of quietly raising the price of some of their cheapest items.
The shopping bill for First Base, which tops up donated food to ensure parcels are nutritionally balanced, has doubled in a year, he said, from £1,000 a month to £2,000 a month. While the charity has seen a 10 per cent increase in demand, the bulk of the cost has come from price rises on supermarkets’ value ranges, he said.
“It seems to be standard policy to limit availability and raise prices in their value ranges. Tesco has got rid of many of its ‘value’ products and replaced them with other brands, while value range longer life milk has disappeared from the shelves. It used to cost us 49p a litre, now the next cheapest option is 79.
“We are seeing unbelievable price rises on food at the lowest end of the market. It feels as if they are targeting the very poorest customers so they can keep their main range prices the same.”