Foodbanks are not essential – they must close, and for good


Pete Ritchie says the Covid crisis shows us that the era of the foodbank must end - instead, let's have a system that allows people to live in safety and with dignity

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26th March 2020 by TFN Guest 7 Comments

One of the first lessons we’ve had to learn in this crisis is that running out of food is not a problem of supply. It’s a problem of distribution. £1 billion worth of food that would otherwise be on the shelves, is in people’s cupboards and fridges.

Meanwhile, foodbanks up and down the country view the lockdown announcement with alarm. Will they get supplies from public donations or be able to buy them from the supermarket?

How will they cope without the (often older) volunteers who are now not allowed to leave their home to work in them? Will they be allowed to stay open?

There’s no doubting the good intentions of the people who run and work in foodbanks. They have been picking up the pieces of ten years of austerity. But now, enough is enough.

Pete Ritchie

Pete Ritchie

Let people stay home, and let’s get them the money they need to get the food they need to sit this one out

It’s completely possible to give people money to buy food themselves if they have run out of cash. In Scotland, it’s called the Scottish Welfare Fund, and it’s just been more than doubled by the Scottish Government. It’s perfectly possible to issue people with a card to use in shops which the government then loads with money. In Scotland it’s called Best Start Foods. It’s perfectly possible in the short term for GPs, schools and welfare agencies to hand out supermarket vouchers if people need them.

We have an amazing food distribution system. Cunningly, shops have been located near where people live, and most of them deliver. They are open much of the time. Let’s put the systems in place to ensure everyone can access the food distribution system on equal footing. It’s a matter of human dignity.

Making foodbanks inessential takes a little money, sure. To cover the cost of the food given out each year by Scotland’s foodbanks would be around £6-7 million – 2% of the £350m investment in tackling poverty announced last week by the Scottish Government.

To raise the incomes of the poorest 10% of the population of the UK by £30 per week and make a real dent on food insecurity would cost £10bn – 3% of the rescue package announced last week by the UK government.

And it needs a little work to imagine a Scotland without foodbanks – but rather less than imagining a national lockdown, a ban on weddings, rail renationalisation, no football, no church, no Olympics.

We’ve discovered that we genuinely are all in this together this time. So let’s not pretend that it is essential for people who have run out of money for food (who may themselves be vulnerable) to go to an agency to collect a voucher to take to another location when there’s little or no public transport to get a parcel of food which they haven’t chosen, often from an older volunteer who themselves should also be staying at home. And remember, the food itself has come from the supermarket where everyone else goes.

Let people stay home, and let’s get them the money they need to get the food they need to sit this one out.

Foodbanks are not essential, and it’s time to close them for good. We are all enlisted now.

Pete Ritchie is director of Nourish Scotland.

26th March 2020 by Laura

I refer people to the food bank as I work for the Scottish welfare fund scheme. The people I refer receive more money in benefits than I do in my wage and have no money due to poor money management. This is what needs to get tackled in Scotland. Poor money management is big issue.

26th March 2020 by Ross McKechnie

I wonder when the author last visited a food bank? I wonder if he has ever visited a food bank? I see he is the director of a food charity and wonder why he would write this piece at this time. Is that all he’s got? Should he not be trying to address the crisis? There’s a global pandemic and he responds with this tired argument?

27th March 2020 by Stuart

I had to check the date: thought this was the 1st April.Perhaps in an ideal world with no poverty, pandemics, or health issues there shouldn't be a place for FoodbanksBut this is not an ideal world, foodbanks are an essential part of many families lives: it is the only way many parents can put food on the table for their kids.As for the nonsense in the first post: really? Its time to stand up to this ridiculous suggestion that was pandered by the Tories to justify benefit cuts.

28th March 2020 by James Hennessy

I have worked for a Foodbank for 5 years and often thought about moving to a cash distribution service, However in practice it just would not work. Many of our clients have Drink, drug and mental health issues they simply can't cope with cash or society. Many just need a chat and for a few brief moments feel that they are valued. To anyone looking at it from the outside we look pathetic trying to change the world one can at a time but believe me our roll is much more about the Human beings than the baked beans.

30th March 2020 by Sophy Green

As someone who runs a Food Bank I agree with this sentiment but the challenge is that it requires a societal change and this is not likely to happen. We remain driven by capitalists for who making a profit is more important than ensuring that everyone is properly cared for. And, yes, we do need to provide better education on money management. Sadly we will always need support for those who become addicted to alcohol and/or drugs. Also those suffering from mental ill health.

9th May 2020 by

Please help yourself to shops in supermarkets stores than goes to the foods banks plus the fair banks it not recommended to have any foods there is out of date you will have an bad tummy ache please help your health to eat plants based organic vegan products as meats is unhealthy it joined with greenhouse gases emissions from eating meats and fish choices please help your environment is suffering badly from climate changes is real it time to wake up please

8th July 2020 by J

I've used the Scottish welfare fund and it was more than welcomed. Yes there is a problem with money management in Scotland. there's also a huge problem with drink and drugs. Expecting people to be able to manage a monthly payment on universal credit was and is insane. I'm fairly good at money management but there simply isn't enough money to pay bills and live. Being stuck in your house for a month with nothing inevitably lends itself to once and a while messing up and going out for a weekend. That's enough. One night out is enough to leave you without enough to live on. Universal credit is a system of debt. Every penny I get is being paid out in some way to the government. you mess up one month, it takes six months to sort yourself out. Going to job interviews puts you out of pocket. Applying for jobs 35 hours a week and getting constant knock backs makes you depressed. Depression makes you just go out for the night as soon as the money comes because your so sick and tired of being all on your own with a system that designed to crush you. Anyone who smokes is pretty much screwed. I gave up. Didn't want to and not too happy with the sanctimonious crowd that think that that's great. I'm miserable. All I can do is eat and I'm not managing that well. 10 percent deduction on the advance, 10 percent for council tax, that's twenty percent before you even pay your bills. you need a phone, and internet for jobs, that's another 20 percent. it was 70 quid a week when I left university in the nineties. It's still 70 quid. Oh and I bought a house so no help for 9 months including factor fees and mortgage paymenst. i'm living on buttons.