Opinion by Pasqueline Agostinho
Food banks are very beneficial, but there is a huge downside with them. The process of accessing a food bank is stressful, which it shouldn’t be especially during the pandemic.
Food banks have complicated policies that require food bank representatives to interview people who want to access their food banks every time. If you pass the interview, you’ll need a referral from them. It is not 100% guaranteed that you will even get a referral (if they decide you are not eligible) and you can be denied access to a local food bank. Instead, they will give you advice on debt and benefit problems. If food banks really wanted to help people, then they shouldn’t have to make the process hard. There should be no need for referrals. Before the interview, you will need to have viable proof to show that you are struggling. You need an ID, proof of income and proof of address or you might just need a proof of address to your nearest Citizens Advice office. You can also get a referral from a charity, your local GP or a social worker.
It is also important to note that some food banks will have a limit on how many times you can use their food banks. That should not happen. Food banks should not decide on a limit because anything can happen in an individual’s life and they just might not have enough money to feed themselves or their families and this would be happening many times over that limit. Getting into such a bad situation is easy but getting out of it is difficult and even more complicated and that hunger isn’t just going to stop.
Sure, there are people who take advantage of the system but if you think that the majority of people are doing this, you are the problem. Back in 2018, almost four million adults were forced to use a bank for the first time. A major report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that more than 1.5 million people were destitute which included 365,000 children. It has also been suggested that 7% of the adult population back in 2018 have used a food bank just to have a meal. In 2009/10, there were 40,898 aid packages provided to people by food banks but by 2018/19, this rose to 1,583,668. We can say that this is because the lack of social security provided by the government which were cut thanks to the Conservative Party. Thus, food banks should make the process very difficult for people.
This is why there has been a rise in local mutual aid networks, community co-ops and community kitchens. They do not work like food banks because you don’t need a referral that is not guaranteed but you only need to sign up as a member locally. Once you’re a member, you also own the network or hub, so that means you can always use them when you need food, or any other free service provided by them for you.