– UK embarks on biggest food drive since second world war (Guardian, Nov 29, 2013):
60,000 people to receive help over festive season as ministers reject claim of link to welfare changes
The reality of the UK’s cost of living crisis has come under the spotlight this weekend as Britain embarks on its biggest charity food drive since the second world war, with the aim of collecting tonnes of groceries to give to hungry and penniless families over Christmas.
The effort involves the British Red Cross (BRC) – the first time the charity has been engaged in mass food aid collection in the UK since 1945 – working alongside the Neighbourhood Food Collection, which has been set up by the Trussell Trust food bank network, the food aid distribution charity Fare Share and Tesco.
Each of Tesco’s 2,500-plus UK stores is asking customers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to buy extra food essentials such as pasta, rice and cereal to give to the charities.
Charities said the US-style food drive was a response to increasing concerns about the rise in food poverty. “The deeply distressing reality for Britain this Christmas is that thousands of families will struggle to put food on the table,” said the Trussell Trust’s chief executive, Chris Mould. “We’re already meeting parents who are choosing between eating and heating, and rising fuel prices mean that this winter is looking bleak for people on the breadline.”
The trust blames benefit delays, low pay, rising living costs and the so-called bedroom tax for a tripling in food bank use over the past year. It said about 60,000 people were likely to receive emergency food from Trussell Trust food banks in the two weeks over Christmas alone, including 20,000 children.
Ministers have rejected the claim, saying there is no robust evidence of a link between welfare reform and increasing food bank use.
Over 23,000 volunteers will be involved in the food drive, including 500 BRC volunteers. Juliet Mountford, BRC director of UK service development, said the charity had decided to get involved because it found food poverty an increasingly prevalent aspect of its core work helping elderly people to live independently.
Tesco published extracts from a survey that found that one in four people in the UK have skipped meals, gone without food to feed their family, or relied on family or friends to provide them with food in the past 12 months. Just over a quarter of respondents said they had struggled to buy as much healthy and nutritious food as they did 12 months ago.
Chris Bush, Tesco UK managing director said: “This research shows how hard it has been for some families over the last 12 months, and we know that those on the lowest incomes in particular struggle to meet the cost of rising household bills.”
The retailer, which will top up the total value of food donated by 30%, said it will not profit from the extra food sales. A previous food drive over two days in July raised the equivalent of 2.5m meals, it says. A Trussell Trust family food parcel will provide 10 meals over three days.
Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty, urged people to donate but warned that food banks should not be regarded as a long-term solution to hunger. “A food parcel, if it means a family can have a Christmas dinner, is great. But what does that family do on 26 December? What does it do through January?”
Food drives on this scale are not uncommon in the US and Canada, where food banks have become a formal part of the welfare landscape.
In Canada charity food drives began in earnest in the late 1980s and 1990s following a round of deep social security cuts. The charities that ran the campaigns often saw food banks as a short-term response. But as the collections grew bigger, so did food insecurity. Around 1 million people in Canada now regularly rely on food banks.
Nick Saul, who runs a network of food poverty projects called Community Food Centres Canada, says that food drives have depoliticised Canada’s civic space, turning difficult debates about poverty, low wages and inadequate social assistance into celebrations of charitable endeavour.
“Food drives make us feel that food poverty is being taken care of but it isn’t. The solution to food poverty does not lie in charity food, it lies in food justice,” he said. “Government needs to meet its responsibility to deliver our basic right to food.”
• This article was amended on 30 November. It originally said the aim of the drive was to collect “thousands of tonnes of groceries”. This has been corrected.