Why Food Banks Shouldn’t Be Responsible For Fighting Poverty

It is unjust that small charities are left to fight poverty in one of London’s poorest boroughsa borough with one of the highest COVID-19 death rates. 

Sufra’s Instagram photo series #MoreThanAFoodBank examines how they’ve attempted to adapt to the constraints of COVID-19.  Photo credits: Adithio Noviello

We are more than just a food bank. We run a refugee resettlement programme looking after 300+ refugees and asylum seekers, a weekly community kitchen serving hot meals, an advice service to help people deal with acute financial crisis, as well as an edible garden growing fresh produce and educating the community on sustainable eating 

Situated in the London borough of Brent, one of the poorest boroughs in London with a 33% poverty rate, we witnessed a 202% increase in the demand for our services since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic compared to the same period last year. Drawing on data from 191 independent Food Banks across the UK, including our Food Bank, The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) has released a damning report on behalf of it’s members showing an 177% increase in the number of 3-day emergency food parcels distributed since last year (comparing May 2019 to May 2020). IFAN has since published an open letter to the Prime Minister, signed by many of its members including Sufra, calling on the government to address the underlying causes of food insecurity and reduce pressure on Food Banks. 

“Coronavirus will be around for a few more months, maybe even longer, but the economic crisis that follows may last for years.”

– Rajesh Makwana, Director at Sufra NW London

There is a myriad of challenges to navigate including how to continue running the Food Bank under social distancing constraints and how to reach the most vulnerable beneficiaries such as homeless people who don’t have the means to prepare meals in temporary accommodation.  

In a very short space of time, we were forced to adapt our services in response to virus; in place of the weekly community kitchen where local guests (beneficiaries) could walk in and enjoy a meal, we deliver up to 1,800 freshly cooked meals every week. Advice services now run remotely, and guests are supported with issues such tenancy and finding housing. 

We are aware of the multifaceted issues that our guests are facing in the pandemic and have scaled up our services to provide a more holistic level of aid such as cooked food delivery service for those without cooking facilities and a laptop drive to provide used laptops to refugee and asylum families so that their children can study during lockdown. 

Case study: Illness, Unemployment and Shielding 

Agata is a single Eastern European migrant who had only been living in the UK for 11 years. When she approached Sufra, she was up against a plethora of challenges: her 3-year-old daughter was suffering from a breathing difficulty, so she was especially careful about going out during the COVID-19 pandemic and made the decision to isolate at home. 

Prior to Covid-19, Agata was a part time office manager within a small company, but she was laid off due to the virus. Later on, she was then taken back and furloughed. However, her monthly income totalled just under £500, which just about covered her rent.  

All these burdens made feeding her daughter near impossible. Sufra was able to support Agata with food parcels and signposting services regarding benefits and employment. 

It is a failure of our system that community-based charities should have to tackle these complex issues, and that people are left without the support governments should provide to protect people’s human right to food and economic security. It is indefensible that it takes 22-year-old footballer Marcus Rashford to start a social media campaign for the government to revise its decisions on free school meals over the summer. Child poverty, food insecurity and the dire plight of refugees and asylum seekers in the current climate should not be tackled by Food Banks and small charities alone.  

Our long-term goal is clear: we want to envision a society where Food Banks do not need to exist. We want to serve our community as best as we can for now whilst working towards that wider goal. Unfortunately, the repercussions of the pandemic mean that charities like ours will have the bear the brunt of the crisis for the foreseeable future. 

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