Latest food bank statistics released by The Trussell Trust have shown that over 1.2million food supplies were given out to people in crisis during April 2016 – March 2017 – over 430,000 of which went to children. This record high number indicates how the government are out of touch with the reality that people in Britain are getting hungrier, yet not many changes have been implemented to help.
Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite, a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University, carried out ethnographic research over a concentrated 18 month long period in a Trussell Trust foodbank. In her award-winning book, Hunger Pains: Life Inside Foodbank Britain, Dr Garthwaite draws on a lot of field research, interviews and observations to show that people using foodbanks are in severe need of help.
In her research seminar held at Leeds Beckett University, Dr Garthwaite gives an overview of her findings that are published in her book. She believes that the government are skewing the public from the real reason people use foodbanks.
“The government’s response to the rising number in foodbank use is to blame the individual,” Dr Garthwaite states. “Their spending habits are blamed on rather than focusing on why people are needing to go to foodbanks in the first place. People are blamed individually and the government make out that people go to foodbanks through faults of their own. This has caused voters to now no longer believe that there is serious hunger in Britain due to all this rhetoric around foodbanks.”
Dr Garthwaite became a weekly volunteer at a Trusswell Trust foodbank in Stockton. She informed everyone at the foodbank of her research and collected stories, interviews and observations as well as participating in all the roles required for a foodbank volunteer, such as getting involved in the supermarket collections and dealing with agencies to help people gain access to food.
The main reason found in her ethnographic research was that people were visiting foodbanks due to benefit sanctions that had been put in place by the government. There was a wide range of reasons why people had their benefits sanctioned, such as a man who could not attend a Job Seekers interview due to taking his mother to chemotherapy, and a woman who was late to her Job Seekers meeting due to a job interview taking longer than she had expected.
The public tend to pick up on people that abuse the system, which gives the impression that donations and foodbanks are not really needed, claims Dr Garthwaite. Halting donations and foodbanks completely can be damaging to those that need it the most. “People do pick up on abuse of the system and how people use things when they don’t need it,” Dr Garthwaite admits, “but you can’t let people go hungry because of people that are abusing the system.”
Government intervention and changes to the social security system are things that Dr Garthwaite believe need to be addressed if we ever want to go forward. Although benefit sanctions were found to be the biggest cause of people’s needs for foodbanks, zero hours contracts and low paid jobs are other factors that need to be taken into consideration.
“We need to start listening to people who are using foodbanks,” Dr Garthwaite added. “We need to try and understand that yes, there are a lot of complex reason why people use foodbanks as Theresa May addressed in her interview with Andrew Marr. But really it is about listening to why people go to foodbanks in the first place.”
“There is a lot of stigmatisation of people using foodbanks. This can affect people’s ideas of themselves and it can affect their mental health. One of the main reasons people believe is that they are using the foodbanks because of a fault within themselves. This is simply not the case and there is more denial as to what is going on. As long as this denial carries on, there is no way foodbanks will ever be a thing of the past.”
PHOTO Stella Taxidi