Food Poverty Has No Place in Our Society
BANKUET – Dave Beck is a lecturer in social policy at the University of Salford and expert on food poverty. We chat to him about his work, the role of food banks in the UK and how he believes we could eliminate food poverty.
Tell us a bit about what you do
My teaching and research focuses mainly on food poverty, food banks and how they shape our society. I look at how welfare policies affect communities and how people provide food for themselves and their family. It’s a combination of politics, sociology and human geography.
What inspired you to take this path?
There are a few different reasons. My interest in social policy probably stems from growing up in a single-parent, working class family. We never went without, but there were some tough times. As an adult, I’ve had my own experiences with poverty and struggled with debt. I found out a while ago that a family friend would bring us things from a local food bank from time to time if they thought we were struggling.
I didn’t start university until I was 25. When I was studying for my bachelor’s in environmental planning and management in Wales, I became interested in the role of food on the island of Anglesey. There’s a great history of local food there but a lot of residents struggle to afford it. I ended up looking at the rise of food banks in the area for a master’s degree and became increasingly immersed in the topic. I started to map independent food banks across Wales as there wasn’t any data available. And then I noticed how there’d been a real explosion in the number of food banks: between 2010 and 2015 it went from 16 to around 150.
What’s the reason for the increase in food banks?
Government austerity policies over the last decade have resulted in more and more people relying on food banks. Welfare spending has decreased and benefits have become increasingly hard to access. As the government has stepped back in recent years, the responsibility for feeding the poor has shifted to the third sector. Food banks have fast become the safety net for an insufficient state safety net.
This has created a very difficult situation. Really, food banks shouldn’t have to exist. At most they should be a last resort, not an established part of the system. But that’s exactly what they’ve become. Food banks are now working with big retailers and food redistribution organisations. The infrastructure is there and it’s become very hard to remove.
How could food banks change this?
A relatively simple thing to do would be to email their local MP every time they hand out a food parcel. That would certainly draw more attention to the situation. We need to remember food poverty has no place within our society. We should be campaigning for change, not acceptance of a new normal.
Do you think the government could or should fund food banks?
In May 2020, the government pledged £16 million to partially fund food redistribution organisations. The rest went to smaller food banks that needed to spend the money within 12 weeks of receiving it via the Covid-19 Food Charity Grant scheme. There was a similar announcement in December for a £16 million winter support grant to a food distribution charity. These redistribution organisations aren’t food banks per se, but that government money will filter directly into food banks through their partnerships with the redistributors. So, the government is already funding food banks via the backdoor, really. Why not just pump it into the benefits system instead?
What sort of systemic changes would you like to see?
Universal basic income would eliminate poverty and the need for food banks overnight. Give people money and let them spend it so that it filters up, rather than hoping that it will filter down. That isn’t working.
Read more of Dave’s thoughts on food banks and social policy in his articles for academic news site The Conversation.
Article written by Geoff Poulton, freelance writer