Food. We often take it for granted. We wake up each day to food in our cupboards. If we need something, we pop to the shops. When we want to enjoy a meal out, we treat ourselves, often without a second thought. But across the UK, UNICEF estimates that 2.5 million British children (that’s 19% of children) live in ‘food insecure’ households. This means there are times when the family doesn’t have enough money to buy food or cannot buy the full variety of foods needed for a healthy diet. As we know, there are many life circumstances that can affect our financial stability - a job loss, a family breakdown, a delay in benefits, rising rent, heating or food costs, or ill health in the family.
Food poverty is a significant issue. Across the UK, we’ve seen the recent growth of Food Banks who give emergency food parcels to those in crisis. Here in Perth, since 2013 local people have received vital support from Perth & Kinross Foodbank, now based at Cutlog Vennel. The Foodbank was set up as a Christian charitable organisation and runs through a small team of dedicated staff and a wide network of invaluable volunteers who provide support and organise food parcels. Within just 7 years of opening, the charity has received and distributed an incredible 53 tonnes of food.
Last year, it fed 5,252 local people, including 1,463 children.
We’re writing this story as The Rotary Club of Perth St John’s to help raise awareness of Perth & Kinross Foodbank’s work and the drivers and impacts of food poverty in the UK. As Rotarians, we’re passionate about creating positive change in our communities. We’re a small club in Perth of 20 members from diverse backgrounds, but we’re also part of a global network of 1.2 million volunteers that makes Rotary one of the biggest humanitarian aid organisations in the world.
We first became involved in the Foodbank a few years ago. Rotarian Michael Archibald is also the Chairman of the Foodbank and helped to build links between our charities. In time, we identified different ways to offer our Rotary Club’s support, which now ranges from volunteering, to making donations, to this - raising awareness.
You may have seen the film 'I Daniel', which depicted a harrowing scenario when people are having difficulty applying for benefits. It is not exaggerated. The Foodbank regularly comes across similar situations. One of the main reasons people access the Foodbank is the 6-week delay in the first payment of Universal Credit. In the event of a family breakdown, illness, disability or any of the other things that could lead to job loss or reduced income, we expect our benefits system to be the anchor that stops us being swept away by the tides of poverty. But a study by The Trussell Trust (2017) found that benefit delays were one of the main drivers of foodbank use, with nearly 2 in 5 people using the Foodbank waiting for a benefit payment. Other key drivers included:
> Income shocks: 2 in 3 people had been hit by a recent ‘income shock’, with most experiencing sharp rises in housing costs or food expenses.
> Low income: The average income of households in the month before being referred was around £320.16% had no income in the last month.
The study also found that:
> 78% had skipped meals and gone without eating – sometimes for days at a time – in the past year. Over half could not afford heating or toiletries.
> 3 in 5 households had recently experienced rising or unexpected expenses.
> Over 50% of households included a disabled person. 75% experienced ill health in their household. Mental health conditions affected people in 1/3 of households.
> 1 in 3 households were finding it difficult to make minimum monthly repayments on outstanding loans.
More than 14 million people in the UK live below the poverty line. With the current pandemic affecting so many livelihoods, we can only anticipate that food poverty will increase. We know it takes more than food to end hunger, so Foodbanks bring together the experiences across their network, and their communities, to challenge the structural economic issues that lock people in poverty, and campaign for change to end the need for food banks in the UK.
So far this year, the Foodbank has issued 2,668 parcels feeding 3,661 adults and 1,732 children. The number of children being fed has risen this year. Three-day emergency food parcels are provided during times of crisis. On average, people visit the Foodbank only two or three time a year; it is not intended as a dependent solution for food. The parcels are nutritionally balanced and each has a mixture of cereals, tinned fruit & veg, soups, tinned meals, pasta/ rice, milk and other produce.
The Foodbank also works closely with other partners such as Citizens Advice Bureau and CATH to ensure that people have access to support around their finances and budgeting.
Volunteers are critical to the daily running of the Foodbank. Some of our Rotary members have signed up as regular weekly volunteers, meeting with clients, and organising food parcels. The wider Club also helps when the Foodbank needs large volumes of volunteers to collect items from supermarkets during their big ‘food drive’ over the winter.
When the pandemic arrived, the Food Bank was affected by many of its volunteers needing to shield, so it had to quickly revisit how to keep its essential support going. With support from Perth & Kinross Council and others, the Foodbank reorganised its way of working to keep its doors open and parcels flowing safely. The current focus of the Foodbank remains on those most in need, who cannot afford to feed themselves.
As a Rotary Club, we were keen to help in this difficult period and our members have donated their weekly lunch money to the Food Bank since April, with donations totally £1,095 so far.
> You can help the Foodbank today by donating to them. All donations, however big or small, will make an important difference. You can donate here.
> Alternatively, why not pick up a few food items next time you’re shopping? Tesco and ASDA in Perth have collection points where you can drop off food items. Click here to see the urgently needed items.
> Or you can simply share this article on your social media to help raise awareness of this important charity. Please like and share!
Thank you for any support you can give.
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