Advertisement
Social Justice

Diary of a food bank manager: ‘The situation is becoming more and more desperate’

Charlotte White manages Earlsfield Foodbank and says the issues people are having to juggle just to get by are stacking up more than ever.

Another busy morning at the food bank. A long queue had formed before we even opened the doors and a steady flow continued throughout the three-hour session. A fight broke out outside between two guests after an argument escalated. It was dealt with quickly and no-one was hurt, but this worrying turn of events added to an overall sense that the wheels are coming off. The situation is becoming more and more desperate.

Much of the current discourse around food banks focuses on rising numbers, but there are several other changes we’ve noticed in the last few months that go hand in hand with the food parcel figures.

First, the complexity of people’s problems. Guests are coming in with so many different issues relating to poverty – many more than before. We aim to refer to relevant support services, but the first step is often unravelling the issues and knowing where to even start.

Subscribe to The Big Issue

Support us

Take a print or digital subscription to The Big Issue and provide a critical lifeline to our work.

Take Carrie, one of our new guests: she is struggling with her housing – it is damp and there’s lots of dust from unfinished repair work. This has caused her son’s asthma to worsen, and as a result, he’s frequently off school. This has created school attendance issues, which is deepening Carrie’s anxiety. And then the DWP is chasing her regarding her employment search – she has had to miss interviews due to needing to take care of her.

“I don’t know where to begin,” she told me. “I’ve tried to sort the housing, but I’m always told someone will call back. I’m stuck in a circle”.

We’ve also noticed a real change in the frequency with which we’re seeing people. As well as a rapid increase in new guests, occasional and infrequent visitors are now becoming regulars, many needing our support every week. It’s especially saddening when we see guests who had stopped using the food bank but now can’t avoid needing our help.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Last month we saw the return of Colin, a guest we hadn’t seen since last June. He’d managed to pay off his debts and was doing OK. Now with the universal credit cut and soaring bills, he’s back to where he started and knows it’ll get worse.

“We’re spending all our money on gas and electric,” he said. “We can’t do food as well… I’m worried we’ll need to borrow again, just to feed the kids.”

Break the cycle of poverty for good
Big Futures is calling on the Government to put in place a plan and policies to break this cycle of poverty for good. We are calling for long-term solutions to meet the biggest issues faced in the UK today – the housing crisis, low wages and the climate crisis. Dealing with these issues will help the UK to protect the environmental, social, economic and cultural wellbeing of future generations. So that young people and future generations have a fair shot at life. Join us and demand a better future.

It’s like an evil game of Snakes and Ladders – the number of snakes on the board is growing and the ladders are rapidly being pulled away.

Perhaps the most worrying change is the urgency with which guests need help. We’re used to seeing people who have little money and not much food in the cupboard. But we now see people who have nothing at all. Some guests come in literally starving – food parcels are opened, and food consumed straight away. Hearing stories of the choices and sacrifices needed to get by is heart-breaking. Throughout winter we regularly saw the “eating vs heating” dilemma. Now we also hear of missed meals and tiny portions. Or parents choosing not to eat so that their children can. 

We recently delivered some food to a new family. A six-year-old girl answered the door with her mother and on seeing the food parcel: “Look Mummy, we can have dinner tonight!”

And Earlsfield Foodbank is just one of hundreds of independent food banks struggling with increasing numbers across the country. On our regular IFAN (Independent Food Aid Network) calls, every food bank tells similar stories and everyone is desperately worried about what the future holds. It is a very different situation to the one we faced 12 months ago, when, as lockdown ended, we felt a little bit of hope. Usually at this time of year the numbers lighten up a bit, as heating bills come down. But it’s May and numbers are steadily growing. What on earth will the rest of the year bring?

Earlsfield Foodbank is a member of the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) which campaigns for a cash first approach to food insecurity. Tom Pollard recently spoke with people at the food bank for his report on poverty, food banks and mental health in collaboration with IFAN and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. You can access IFAN’s cash first referral leaflets designed to help people facing worries access advice and support here. Take action and write to your MP using IFAN’s template letter here.

Advertisement

Every copy counts this Christmas

Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Christmas. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Christmas.

Recommended for you

Read All
Four in five of the children’s homes in England are run for profit – here’s why that is a problem
Child poverty

Four in five of the children’s homes in England are run for profit – here’s why that is a problem

The cost of living crisis is making it harder for domestic violence victims to leave their abusers
Domestic violence

The cost of living crisis is making it harder for domestic violence victims to leave their abusers

The domestic violence charities supporting survivors in the UK
Domestic violence

The domestic violence charities supporting survivors in the UK

Social mobility Tsar Katharine Birbalsingh blames lack of progress on government chaos
Social mobility

Social mobility Tsar Katharine Birbalsingh blames lack of progress on government chaos

Most Popular

Read All
Here's when and where nurses are going on strike
1.

Here's when and where nurses are going on strike

Pattie Boyd: 'I was with The Beatles and everything was fabulous'
2.

Pattie Boyd: 'I was with The Beatles and everything was fabulous'

Here's when people will get the additional cost of living payment
3.

Here's when people will get the additional cost of living payment

Why do people hate Matt Hancock? Oh, let us count the ways
4.

Why do people hate Matt Hancock? Oh, let us count the ways