It’s been a frustrating week. Once more, we’ve had to cut items from the product list we offer guests. As guest numbers continue to go up and donation levels go down, we just can’t afford to provide people with the same amount of food as before.
More frustration was felt on hearing the ill-informed comments by MPs Lee Anderson and Rachel Maclean. These comments were galling for several reasons. Firstly, they do not relate in any way to what we see at the food bank. And secondly, comments like these propagate the dangerous myth that people need food banks because of mismanagement of their own situation, rather than a failing, broken system.
Lee Anderson suggested that people who use food banks do not know how to cook or manage their finances properly. In our experience this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many guests want to cook and most have some ability and knowledge. When our food bank team discussed which items to cut this week, one item we unanimously agreed we need to keep was cooking oil. It’s one of our most sought-after items, and this is because people are cooking. One guest, Jan, makes a vegetable curry every week from the fresh vegetables given out. Another guest, Nazish, often rings me before the Thursday session, to ask if anyone has happened to donate any herbs and spices.
Of course, not all guests cook, but the barrier is more likely to be inability to afford the gas or electric rather than a lack of desire or knowledge. Since the cost-of-living crisis has accelerated, items like instant noodles (which only require a kettle) or no-cook items like corned beef and spam have become much more popular. As guest Heidi says “I have £1 left on the electric for the rest of the week. I need this to charge my girls’ tablets so they can do their school homework, I can’t put the oven on as well” (The tablets are loaned to the family by the school).
Days after Lee Anderson’s comments, MP Rachel Maclean said families could “protect” themselves from the cost-of-living crisis by taking on more work.
One of the most alarming trends we’ve seen over the last few months has been the number of working people needing food bank support. At our food bank we have delivery drivers, support workers, carers, retail workers etc to name a few. In fact, we’ve even changed our system so that people who work can order pre-packed bags and avoid the queue. We did this after a DHL driver was almost penalised for a late delivery because of a very long food bank queue that day.