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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Food for thought


In her first CIH blog, the newest recruit to our policy and practice team Alex Gibson takes a look at why so many people are still needing to use their local foodbank.

This morning, my attention was drawn to the most recent food bank statistics from the House of Commons Library and what they tell us. The number of three-day emergency food parcels distributed by the Trussell Trust, which runs over half of the food banks in the UK, rose again in September 2019.

Those that work at and donate to foodbanks are inspirational in the work they do under such increasing demand. Yet the fact that these voluntary run services are so heavily relied on in this country is something that should worry us all. The primary source of data for the use of food banks in the UK is the Trussell Trust, but we know that other charities, churches, community groups and others operate food banks in their local areas, so the saddening statistics we see from the trust don’t even paint the full picture. In its 2019 mid-year statistics it reported that 823,145 parcels were given out compared to 658,048 to the same period the year before, which is a staggering 23 per cent increase - the steepest increase in five years, and what’s more around a third of these were requested for children.

Last year, the government proposed introducing ‘food insecurity measures’ as an attempt to understand the extent of people going hungry. We aren’t without food in this country; people are without money. What we do have is a welfare system that isn’t helping to meet the needs for food and a warm home; low-paid jobs and zero hours contracts; and people working hard day-in, day-out who are still forced to sacrifice food to pay their rent because wages haven’t kept up with inflation. The standard of living for many has fallen as a result. ‘Food insecurity’, put simply, is failure to meet basic human need. Behind the different terminology, statistics and debate, there are adults and children going hungry every single day. Are we still as shocked and appalled each time there is an increase in people using foodbanks? We should be.

People are repeatedly having to face the tough choices between paying their rent, heating their home, or eating something – or anything. Following the recent announcement of the lifting of the local housing allowance (LHA) freeze for people renting privately, CIH is calling on government to commit to taking the vital steps necessary in the first post-election Budget to enable the building of more genuinely affordable social rented homes, and to restore the link between LHA and the lowest 30th percentile of market rents. This would ease the burden of those renting privately having to make up the shortfall for rent from already stretched household budgets.

Lifting the LHA freeze and government’s recognition of the issues with universal credit are positive steps, but nowhere near enough. We hope that government will take notice of the data outlined in Crisis’ Cover the Cost campaign and act urgently to address each root cause of poverty in this country.

It is important to acknowledge the hard work of volunteers and the generosity of those helping others in need, but it is crucial that foodbanks never become an accepted part of society. We cannot welcome the expansion of foodbanks, and we cannot cut ribbons and smile as more people just about get by on one non-perishable food item a day. We must continue to raise our voices for real and meaningful change.

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