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Members Voice: Charities stretched to cover UK food poverty

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By M Javed (Manchester Branch)

As many of us begin 2023 having overindulged we have not forgotten those less fortunate than ourselves. Our commitment to a better society lasts all year. So we note with anger that according to a research briefing published by the House of Commons library, food poverty affects 4.2 million people in the UK, i.e. 4.2 million people in this country are either unable to acquire an adequate supply of food or unsure of when they will next be able to do so. 15.5% of households are now eating less or going at least a day without eating due to the increasing price of food.

Food poverty is a health risk caused and worsened by this government – those who are malnourished tend to find it more difficult to recover from common viruses, are three times more likely to have to stay in hospital and, when they are admitted, need to stay in hospital more than 3 days longer than those who have access to adequate nutrition. Meanwhile, 51% of children eligible for free school meals achieve passes in their English and Maths GCSEs, compared to a 77% pass rate among students who are not eligible, with children being made to feel inadequate and insecure for coming from food insecure homes.

Meanwhile, the Tories have spent the year claiming people are ‘reliant’ on food banks because they can’t cook or manage their finances and handing out food parcels worth in the range of £5 containing items such as seemingly random assortments of vegetables (half a tomato, half a pepper and a potato), a wedge of bread, some cake and small money bags of cheese. These were supposed to last recipient children two days each. Insult, then, is added to injury.

Those of us who grew up before Netto closed shop in the UK might remember the popular playground jibes about shopping there, the insinuation being that only desperate, disdain worthy have-nots do so. More recently, there has been controversy surrounding the similar, bright yellow packaging in Asda’s ‘Just Essentials’ range, which was labelled by some as a ‘poverty marker’ designed to draw attention to the have-nots who deign to buy products from that range.

So not only must the millions of people who are struggling with food poverty be concerned about the health, career and educational risks that result from the austerity imposed by the Tories, but they should also be ashamed for struggling during a cost-of-living crisis that this year saw inflation peak at 11.1% in October 2022.

In this climate, independent food banks are stepping up where the government is failing. One such Manchester-based food bank, Humans MCR, is doing so in a way that aims to go beyond the usual short-term support food banks can offer while preserving the privacy of those who need their services.

The food bank offers a host of services, such as home deliveries of food parcels that offer choice and account for dietary requirements delivered in unassuming vehicles and packaging that does not draw the attention of the recipients’ neighbours and a community grocers programme where people can buy discounted groceries. The project was inspired by co-founder Lewey Hellewell’s own ‘undignified’ experience of using a food bank after he was made redundant from his job as a restaurant manager.

Humans MCR aims to go beyond a ‘band aid’ approach of providing short term and bare essential relief in times of crisis and its volunteers have been delivering essentials, treats and presents to hundreds of families over Christmas.

It is an obvious point, but one that we should not tire of making, that the prevalence and undeniable necessity of food banks are signs of a failed economic system, and it is even more disheartening (although unsurprising) that the best of them are not established, run, or supported by the government. In an economic and political climate where workers are not only robbed of their livelihoods but also their dignity, food banks like Humans MCR are integral for not only ensuring the survival of the working class, but also for preserving their dignity.

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