The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN), a charitable organisation I established last year, recently announced a food bank mapping exercise that Sabine Goodwin undertook on IFAN’s behalf. The Guardian wrote about the research in May 2017 and it was subsequently picked up by many websites, radio stations and commentators, as well as The Times and The Independent.
Unbelievably, prior to this research we haven’t known how many food banks operate in the UK, outside of the Trussell Trust network. However, it has been clear to anyone involved in food aid in the UK that the number has been rising over the last few years.
Although this is an ongoing piece of work we discovered that there are many more food banks in operation than previously estimated, with the number of independent food banks numbering 672 on top of the 1,373 food banks and distribution centres supported by the Trussell Trust.
It is a depressing thought that there are over 2,000 food banks providing food to people in the UK in the 21st century. But this is the tip of the iceberg when It comes to the level of food poverty that exists in our country.
For a start there are many other types of groups that provide food aid, from community kitchens to holiday hunger programmes. Our next step will be to map these to add them to the food banks in operation and we fully expect them to number a lot more than the number of independent food banks.
However, the number of services providing food doesn’t paint the whole picture of household food insecurity, as we know that many people use other strategies of getting food when their unable to afford to purchase it themselves – borrowing from friends and family or simply going without are two such strategies.
To really understand the level of household food insecurity we need to carry out national monitoring just like the Canadians do. In Canada they know that food insecurity is about much more than the number of people that visit food banks as they know that at least 4 million people are food insecure (there are particular sections of society that aren’t counted so the number is thought to be higher in reality), alongside the 800,000+ who visit a food bank each year.
The current British government (at time of writing this is the Conservatives…just) refuses to recognise food poverty as an issue so national monitoring is not something they acknowledge there being a need for.
If we don’t know how many people are affected and who they are it makes it very difficult to develop policies that effectively tackle food poverty?
In 2016 a number of organisations produced a report about the need for national monitoring called Time to Count the Hungry. The Food Foundation is one of the organisations leading on this work and the latest information can be viewed on their website.
At IFAN we will continue to work towards building a true picture of the extent of food aid in the UK but while doing so we will be sure to add our voice to the call for national monitoring of house food security.