Food clubs wade in to deal with the hunger crisis in Britain

In the first of a new series reporting from Britain’s most deprived areas, Harriet Marsden is in Cheltenham and Gloucester handing out supplies at some of the thousands of alternatives to food banks that have sprung up across the country

Tuesday 08 February 2022 21:30 GMT
<p>Les, Lisa and Molly at Poet’s Pantry: ‘People don’t want handouts, they want to be empowered’ </p>

Les, Lisa and Molly at Poet’s Pantry: ‘People don’t want handouts, they want to be empowered’

The UK, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, is going hungry – and food poverty is on the rise. About 5 per cent of the population cannot afford enough food to meet their basic needs and avoid hunger. Hospitals are seeing a recurrence of deficiency diseases such as scurvy and rickets due to poor nutrition. New data released just this week by the Food Foundation showed that food insecurity had risen nearly 1 per cent in the past month alone. According to Unicef, the UK ranks fourth in the EU for food poverty, behind Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania. Meanwhile, our food industry wastes about 3.6 million tonnes a year – most of which is still edible. In many countries, food is acknowledged as a basic human right. So the growing food poverty in one of the most advanced and well-off countries means that something has gone wrong.

The problem is, we don’t know how wrong. Most of the data related to hunger is based on the use of food banks and meal vouchers. The Trussell Trust, which opened its first UK food bank in 2000, now operates more than 1,300 banks, and there are also more than 1,000 independent versions.

More and more people are relying on alternatives to food banks. All over the country, independent services such as food clubs, citizens’ supermarkets, community pantries, and food-waste redistribution services are popping up to bridge the gap between the ‘just-about-managing’ and the emergency, means-tested cases. Most alternatives are not means-tested, most give away groceries rather than prepared meals, and crucially, many charge a small weekly fee. Sharon Goodyer is the director of Our Kitchen and a recent recipient of the government’s Point of Light awards scheme for her weekly pandemic deliveries of 2,000 free food bags. She says: “People don’t want handouts, they want dignity, they want to feel empowered.”

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