Food bank row

This morning, the first news today’s papers informed me of was a row over food banks.

fruitApparently, someone – an aide to the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – threatened to have food banks shut down if they continued to raise awareness about their activities and about food poverty in the UK. This aide has the wrong idea.

Only a few years ago, in 2011, I noticed a major discrepancy in this area. The Trussell Trust – which runs the food banks in the UK – wasn’t accomplishing even 10% of what Dutch food banks were doing.

  • UK food banks handed out 40,000 parcels per year.
  • 900,000 per year were handed out by Dutch food banks.
  • The population of England & Wales on 27 March 2011 was 56,075,912. The population of Scotland on that day was 5,295,000.
  • On 1 January 2011, the population of the Netherlands was around 16,700,000 persons. That’s almost 45 million people less!

So, while British food banks were handing out 0.00065 parcel per person per year, Dutch food banks handed out 0.054 parcel per person per year. Or did my calculator trip me up badly?

cheeseAround 83 times more food parcels were being handed out in a tiny country with much greater equality and almost none of the appallingly deep poverty of the UK!

That is not the Trussell Trust’s fault.

While the number of food parcels handed out in the UK has gone up substantially since then, it still is nowhere near enough. The Trussell Trust gave emergency food to 913,138 people in the UK in 2013-2014. Presumably, that means ‘once’.

According to the Trussell Trust, 13,000,000 people in the UK live below the poverty threshold. (That’s what it also said three years ago.)

Addressing the UK’s persistent poverty problems would improve the lives of everyone here, not just the lives of the poor. When UK scientists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett investigated the impact of inequality on society, they had to conclude that a higher degree of equality would lead to overall improvements for everyone, not just for the so-called vulnerable.

Conquering poverty would also benefit the nation’s budget, as the estimated cost of child poverty alone in the UK is £25 billion per year in terms of costs to business, the police, courts and health and education services.

Inhabitants of the Netherlands rank among the happiest people on the planet, year after year after year. Dutch children consider themselves very happy children, regardless of their socioeconomic background. The same cannot be said for British children.

At the end of 2010, UNICEF research into child inequality in 24 developed countries showed that income poverty has the greatest impact on child inequality in the UK. The UK ranks alongside countries such as Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. There is little inequality in the Netherlands, however, and the lives of children from the richest families differ little from the lives of the poorest Dutch children.

UNICEF UK commented that addressing income poverty is the crucial factor. ‘David Bull, Executive Director UNICEF UK said:

‘We must not lose sight of the importance of family income to eradicating child poverty in this country. We must ensure that no family with children has to live on an income which cannot provide the warmth, shelter and food they need.’

We need to hand out many more food parcels. There is no shame in handing out food, and none in accepting it either. The embarrassment is in not handing it out.