EARLIER this week Owen Paterson, the former Conservative Secretary of State for the Environment, gave a speech about Britain’s energy costs in which he said that every year 15 million tonnes of food were junked as waste.
He was suggesting that unwanted food which has to be thrown away should be converted into energy.
But what about the food that is binned because it has not been purchased or is past its sell-by date: could not the best of it be given to food banks?
Commenting on the increasing demand faced by food banks, Labour MP Frank Field, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty, which reports at the end of this year, said: “The poorest households have most felt the pinch over the past decade, meaning the last resort of turning to food banks has become a reality for an increasing number of people.”
One such man in Birkenhead told the Inquiry: “Nobody wants to go to the food bank.
“Nobody wants to jump through hoops.
“Everybody would rather have hope.”
But hope can only flourish if people have the means to hold body and soul together. One food bank in Bradford is finding that demand is outstripping supply.
In July this year, for example, the Bradford Metropolitan Foodbank at St Mary’s Church, off Leeds Road, gave out more than 1,000 bags of food to professional agencies for distribution to people in need.
The monthly average has risen to about 800 bags.
Keith Thomson, the treasurer of the food bank, said: “We spent less than £500 three years ago in buying in staple products, rising to £19,000 plus in 2013, and already this year we have spent £25,000.
“The growth in demand is shown by the steady rise over the last few years from 1,000 bags in 2010, to 3,500 in 2012, 7,850 in 2013 and this year we are averaging 800 per month with July’s maximum of more than 1,000. “The figure for the year will be around 10,000 bags.
“This is the time of the year when we add to our food stocks. There has been remarkable support marking Harvest Festivals, Eid and Diwali, with donations from many schools, churches, mosques and temples, as well as from individuals and places of work. “There have also been donations of funds to allow us to buy in staple foods that we might be short of.
“As we don’t see those who eat the food we are dependent on the professional support workers who collect food bags from us for their clients. “They cover more than 150 organisations in the district from social services, housing associations, specialist charities, national health support teams, mental health groups, and many others including schools, churches, mosques and doctors surgeries.
“The need arises from a range of factors including temporary unemployment, longer term job seeking, benefit sanctions rigorously applied, benefit assessments involving disability support, the bedroom tax, low income associated with self employment and an unregulated private rented sector.
“In due course, for first time, there is to be an in-depth academic study of a food bank at work by Bradford University, and this will include interview information with the professional groups that use us and possibly with some of their clients.” Regular sizeable falls in unemployment – now below 2 million for the first time since 2008 – more unfilled job vacancies, falling inflation, petrol prices and the cost of some foods, indicate that the worst of the recession is over.
Good news though that is, it is unlikely to prompt people to throw street parties for the cause of the recession, the credit crunch, was a combination of greed and stupidity that would have been avoided if the financial institutions on both sides of the Atlantic had not been de-regulated.
“We hear that things are getting better but people who are dealing with homelessness, poverty and under-privilege will tell you something different,” Lashman Singh added.
“My own feeing is that one of the problems we have got is people on benefits being sanctioned (having their benefits summarily stopped for several weeks or even several months).
“Generally people are finding it difficult to cope with day to day bills.
“I started the Bradford Metropolitan Foodbank just over ten years ago because I found that some people were unable to travel into city-centre charities like my own Curry Project.
“I didn’t know about what was to come – the recession.
“We need drastic help now. We have plenty of volunteers; we need donations.
“It doesn’t matter how small a contribution people make because it all goes back to helping the citizens of Brad- ford.
“At the end of the day we are caretakers, custodians.”