Social Justice

Diary of a food bank manager: We’re now having to prepare parcels for people working full-time

Charlotte White manages Earlsfield Foodbank. She says three years ago they had barley any people with jobs registered. Now they have delivery drivers, supermarket workers, cleaners, chefs, warehouse packers and many more

Volunteers at Earlsfield Foodbank sort food in crates in the middle of a church

Volunteers at Earlsfield Foodbank sort food in crates. Image: Charlotte White

Last week we had a visit from Finnish TV station YLE (the equivalent of the BBC in Finland). They were making a programme on poverty and food banks in Britain. We were happy to help, but it’s appalling to think that the poverty in the UK is so bad that it’s news abroad.

We talked to Sakuri, the Finnish presenter, about the poverty crisis we see on the frontline and how it worsens every week: the increase in numbers, the changing profile of our users, the alarming rise in the number of working people needing food bank support. And how the level of need, hunger and deprivation is deepening. How all the time we’re seeing new degrees of suffering.

Two weeks ago, we registered a new guest, Rosa, who has been struggling for some time. A single parent of two teenage children, she has resorted to searching the bins behind the supermarket to provide her family with food. “It’s ok,” she says. “They don’t know.”

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Like so many other guests, Rosa works. She currently has a part-time job which gives her 25 hours of work a week (she has asked for more hours, but there are no more shifts available). She was managing ok, but the increase in energy bills, food costs and general outgoings means that her monthly wage comes into her bank account and goes straight back out again. She does not want to be using the food bank. She stresses this again and again in the registration interview.

That day we also registered a full-time carer, Abi. She came to the food bank at 10am, on her way back home after a gruelling 12-hour night shift. She went back to a cold flat but at least she could put something in her empty fridge.

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Three years ago, there were barely any people with jobs registered at Earlsfield Foodbank. But now we have delivery drivers, supermarket workers, cleaners, chefs, warehouse packers and many more. We’ve recently started an arrangement with a local hospital to deliver food parcels to staff members struggling to afford food. We have supplied nurses, health care assistants, domestic staff, and administrators with food parcels. People who work around the clock in vital jobs but, yet, don’t have sufficient income to feed their families and pay their bills.

And it’s not just us. During our regular Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) calls, the topic of growing number of working people needing food aid comes up again and again. Food banks around the country are experiencing the same alarming trend.

People with full-time jobs also have additional barriers to contend with. Most food banks operate during the day and many require a referral from an outside agency before a person can access support. Again, more often than not, referral agencies run restricted daytime hours. The Earlsfield Foodbank doesn’t require referrals but more than one guest has mentioned having to take time off work to find a way to get to our morning session.

Because of these issues we’ve made some changes to our food bank system. We register hospital staff by phone, rather than requiring a visit to the food bank. And if someone works, we’re happy to prepare food parcels in advance to be collected, to enable people to avoid the long food bank queue.   

But, whatever we and other food banks do to accommodate increasingly varied needs, it won’t be enough. The rising number of working people needing food aid is not going to stop any time soon unless real changes are made at the highest level. The problem is not one food banks can or should solve. It requires the government and employers to pay decent wages and offer secure hours as well as an adequate social security system to act as a safety net. These are the very basic requirements of a civilised society. Do this, then the UK’s poverty crisis won’t make international news.

Earlsfield Foodbank is a member of the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) which campaigns for a cash first approach to food insecurity. Last year, Tom Pollard 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. Charlotte White will be speaking at upcoming IFAN, Feeding Britain and University of York webinar – A route of poverty: The effect of low pay and insecure work on food insecurity.

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