Something worth celebrating happened here recently. Nominated by members of the public, the foodbank network in the borough got a special award for its contribution to the community. The ceremony was held at the town hall, and the lovely and very dedicated food bank manager Alan was there to receive it.
As I’ve said before, this cash-strapped local council isn’t perfect, but it does try harder than most to help the growing number of vulnerable people in the area. It also values social cohension and is striving against considerable odds to address issues of inequality and poverty.
The council is being starved of funding, like all local authorities. The Local Government Association (LGA) has pointed out that overall funding for local government has been cut by more than 40 per cent in the course of this Parliament. The LGA has already called on the government to think again about getting rid of the £347m emergency welfare fund for vulnerable people facing short-term crisis. This council knows that these are the very group most in need of food banks. So it does what it can. It provides space at a peppercorn rent for the spacious warehouse and its welcome centre, and ensures food donation baskets are provided in a number of council buildings that are open to the public. The support it can provide is limited, but of a practical, hands-on nature.
Since April 2013, this borough’s Trussell Trust food banks have given out enough food to provide 35,000 meals. It has fulfilled over 1800 vouchers, which translates to about 2300 adults and 1500 children. Alan’s team has collected nearly 40 tonnes of food and distributed just over 30 tonnes through the eight welcome centres across the borough. The organisation is now fully established, with strong teams in the warehouse and the welcome centres.
Alan adds: ‘All these numbers far exceed our expectation at the beginning of the year. It is not my wish to enter the political debate but I will share with you that the vast majority of people we meet are sincere and their need is genuine. We continue to be grateful to the many churches and schools who have been the chief contributors of food.’ This, he says, has been supported by the permanent collection points facilitated by the local council and by collection points in local Tesco and Sainsbury supermarkets. The challenge continues to gather in sufficient of the less popular food items so that the volunteers can make up complete packs. The local food bank network now has a clever App that provides details of food abundances and shortages, and will help enormously (assuming donors have smartphones etc).
Some people are falling through the safety net, though. They’re very vulnerable indeed, and for a significant number food bank packs are not going to solve their problems. What they need is long-term support and intervention – from a state that’s capable of engaging with them. They deserve welfare policies that offer proper help to individuals struggling with a host of adverse circumstances, including chronic ill health. Not just sanctioning their benefits when they ‘fail’ to apply for enough ‘jobs’, or being left without benefits while they wait in limbo for decisions on employment and support allowance (ESA) to be reconsidered.