Opinion

There are more food banks in UK than McDonald's. It's why the work doesn't stop after polling day

We pledge to take those in charge to task and seek better

The proliferation of food banks is one of many dire consequences of austerity. Artwork by Georgie, Shoreditch, London, 2017. Image: Julia Tulke/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Since 2010, there have been 16 housing ministers in Westminster. At Big Issue, we have challenged each one to tell us what measures they were taking to deal with homelessness and fearful spiralling rents, particularly for poorer and younger renters. The answers were not always forthcoming. In summer 2010 there were an estimated 1,250 people rough sleeping in England. In late 2023 this number sat close to 4,000. Last autumn it was calculated that there were 142,490 children in temporary accommodation in England. That this figure has not been a badge of shame in the election campaign is remarkable. 

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In 2010, there were 35 food banks in the UK, operated by the Trussell Trust. Such were the small numbers that an explanation of what a food bank was had to be provided each time they were mentioned.

Then, briefly, several years ago, there was a neat comparison drawn to show a changing moment in Britain. It was said that there were around the same number of McDonald’s branches as food banks. 

Today, there are 1,439 McDonald’s in the UK and just shy of 2,900 food banks, 1,699 of which are operated by the Trussell Trust. That does not include the number of food banks in schools. The National Governance Association, the body speaking for school governors and trustees in England, say that over a fifth of schools who responded to questions about food banks said they had one. 

Last year, the Trussell Trust handed over 3.12 million emergency food parcels.

The Big Issue is not aligned to any political party. We have never backed a single party nor a political agenda.

However, that is not to be mistaken for hands-off neutrality. Big Issue acts on behalf of those far too often neglected. We offer a voice to those quietened and those for whom poverty is a lived reality or a sickening, ever-present Damoclesean sword. We are also here for people who want the best for all, not just for closed, self-interested groups.

We know that governments can’t solve everything, so we amplify positive, frequently community-based solutions. We look to find ways for those on the outside to feel they have agency and respect. Our social investment arm Big Issue Invest creates innovative solutions, through enterprise, to unlock social and economic opportunity for people affected by poverty. 

But that does not mean we don’t take those in charge to task and seek better. The austerity years from 2010 were a shameful, devastating period in which cuts rather than investment, driven by political dogma, punished those on the edges of society, leaving damage that may take a generation to fix. Austerity has propelled us to where we are now.

Our campaigning in recent years helped secure a £316m Homelessness Prevention Grant. However, much of that was soaked up meeting immediate housing need in financially skinned to the bone local authorities rather than preventing homelessness on a strategic scale. We worked with like-minded organisations to push through the Renters Reform Bill and stop Section 21 (‘no-fault’) evictions. That work is not over. Our reporting has illustrated the punitive nature of the DWP for people with life limiting disabilities. We’ve sought to fix that. We will continue to campaign. 

This week, a new government will be chosen to lead Britain. Polls say it’ll be a new Labour administration. 

In a recent interview, Keir Starmer told Big Issue he’d be as bold as Attlee if elected. If he is PM, we will hold him to that. We will seek delivery of the same sort of poverty busting, life-enhancing policies that Attlee rolled in. 

If Keir Starmer is found wanting, Big Issue will not be.

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us moreBig Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

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