Is society failing the poor and hungry?

Project leader Dave Goddard at the Kettering Foodbank.
Project leader Dave Goddard at the Kettering Foodbank.

In a world in which mountains of food are thrown out on a daily basis, it is amazing that there are still people struggling to find something to eat.

In this article I am not talking about those people struggling with famine in the developing world, but rather, families living in 21st century Britain, unable to feed themselves.

So who is to blame? Is it the fault of too many people unable to budget properly and spending cash on the wrong things, or are we failing to care for our poor to a suitable level?

One man appalled by the situation of those living beneath the poverty line in this country is Dave Goddard, who heads St Jude’s Community Project, which operates the Kettering Foodbank; an organisation which supplies emergency parcels of food to those in need.

From January to the middle of June this year, the foodbank handed out food to about 300 people and a further 1,550 cooked meals were supplied from St Jude’s Drop-in from January to May this year.

It is Dave’s view that if, in 10 years’ time, foodbanks are still needed, then something has gone very wrong with our society. He sees a direct correlation between increases in demands for the foodbank services and welfare reforms brought in by the Government.

He said: “We support some of the benefit reforms as we recognise a dependency culture but there are national decisions by out-of-touch politicians who don’t understand how it affects those people whose lives are already in chaos. I don’t believe in David Cameron’s Big Society, we are just picking up the tab.

“Organisations like these are manned by volunteers but there is a lot of pressure working with the types of clients we work with day in and day out. Eventually it will have to stop or donor fatigue will set in, the generosity of people will dry up or people will say they are in just as bad a position as the people they are helping. Someone asked me about the longevity of foodbanks but if we are still here in 10 years time we are failing in our work as a society.”

At the moment there is no sign of the Kettering Foodbank’s work slowing down. In fact, their work is expanding to make the service more accessible to more people. As well as the foodbank at St Jude’s in Kettering, there are other outlets in Irthlingborough and in Alexandra Street, Kettering. A new outlet is also due to set up in Desborough. Of those who visit the foodbank, 80 per cent are unemployed and the rest are underemployed.

Of those attending the foodbank in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) 70 per cent have mental health issues and 30 per cent have physical issues.

Dave cites the main reasons for people needing the foodbank as including: the benefit delay caused by changes from Jobseekers’ Allowance to Employment and Support Allowance; benefit sanctions caused by missed appointments or a misunderstanding of the system, underemployment or sudden large household expenditure.

He said: “We have seen an increase in demand and the reasons for people coming here have changed. A lot of people come to the foodbank having had trouble with their benefits. One big problem is with ESA assessments – the waiting time for appeals has caused periods of hardship. It has caused a lot more pressures in our work. But we don’t just give away food to anyone, we assess the reason they are here. It is causing more work with our staff, trying to work out the genuine cases.”

And the foodbank receives its fair share of non-genuine cases. Dave mentions one person who was on £25,000 worth of benefits but apparently couldn’t afford food, and another man who tried to get a parcel but could afford £80 a month to pay for his Sky TV package.

Dave is careful to say that people who misuse their money do not get food parcels, and it is important that the public know this, so it doesn’t impact on the levels of giving which are so vital to keeping the service alive. Dave said: “We have seen a decrease in giving in the past six months. A lot of people say ‘I’m not giving because I’m struggling myself’ or ‘I’m not giving to someone who wastes money on alcohol’. But we spend a lot of time making sure we are sending food to the right cases. We have procedures in place to make sure food goes where it is needed.”

Work of the Kettering Foodbank:

At the Kettering Foodbank, a group of volunteers busy themselves sorting through piles of tins and jars; putting them in cardboard boxes, ready to be collected by those in need of emergency rations.

Each box prepared provides three days’ worth of food for a family, together with recipes for how the ingredients can be used.

The food is amassed largely through the generosity of the public, who make donations at points such as schools and churches throughout the area as well as Asda and Sainsbury’s in Kettering.

Dave Goddard, who leads the St Jude’s Community Project, said: “We are short of things like jams, spreads and sugar, but have masses of beans, soups and pasta. Some things we find it difficult to get hold of.”

Tony Stone, who works at the foodbank, said: “Everything that goes out is in date and complete.

“Collections are done at most of the churches, quite a few schools, clubs and even the Yorkshire Bank. Each parcel contains three breakfasts, lunches and three teas. We are short of sugar, jam, tinned fish and tinned meats. Usually people will come here to collect the parcel or a support worker will come down.”

The Kettering Foodbank is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 10am and midday, although it is closed this week. The new foodbank outlet, opening in association with Desborough Baptist Church, is due to open on August 20.

Facts:

From January until June this year, the Foodbank supplied parcels to about 300 people in the form of food parcels.

Ninety per cent of these were first-time visits with no return date.

Ten per cent were returns for second parcels, with a small number making a return visit from 2012.

The foodbank supplied about 1,550 cooked meals from St Jude’s drop-in during the period from January until May this year.

The main reasons for foodbank visits include sudden household expenditures or benefit sanctions caused by missed appointments or misunderstandings of the system.