A Food Bank User’s Perspective

On Easter Sunday the Mail on Sunday published an "investigation" into food bank misuse in an apparent effort to dispel so-called myths of rising numbers of food bank users due, in part, to the cuts to the welfare state. If you haven't read the piece you can do so here, I took the liberty of taking a screen grab to save you, my dear readers, having to give them a click. The things I do for you, right?! Don't forget to come back!

*waits*

All read now? Brilliant.

Now, I want to attempt to put my thoughts out there, after all that is what a blog is for. First, I'd like you to understand that I am coming at this from the perspective of someone who has had to use a similar project to the Trussell Trust called The Matthew Tree Project as recently as last year. The food store works similarly to The Trussell Trust's food banks in the sense that you have to get a voucher from a professional such as a support worker, health visitor, GP or social worker and you get a limited number of visits. It is different in that you get up to five days worth of food (as opposed to three days), you choose the food yourself within guidelines stated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to ensure you and your family get a balanced diet and they give ongoing support when needed. So basically, I am going to disagree with the Daily Mail. A lot. So now you know where we stand, either grab yourself a cuppa (it's a bit of a long post) or press that x in the top right hand corner.

Daily Mail1

Back to the article, I am not quite sure where to start with this. So I will start with the glaring contradiction in the blue box, around halfway down the page the sub-headline of which includes "No Questions Asked", yet the undercover reporter was asked a few questions about his circumstances and income. Contradictory? I'd say so. The report stated that the reporter received basics such as bread, sugar and pasta "as well as less essentials such as a chocolate pudding". The inclusion of the chocolate pudding seems to be a deliberate attempt to insinuate that people who are struggling should not be allowed treats, no matter how small. Not to mention that the reporter "staggered out of the church" giving the impression that an overly generous amount of food was given when, as you can see from the picture above, it was merely the basic essentials for a family of four. So not overly generous at all.

The article criticises both The Trussell Trust and the Citizens' Advice Bureau (both of which are independent charities) for what it implies are lax controls or checks over backgrounds in order to establish whether someone is in genuine need or not. I'm not really sure what checks the reporter expected? Charities largely work on the basis of trust and, in my opinion, as someone who had to use a similar project last year, it not a pleasant but is a rather difficult experience. Answering questions about your income and expenditure to a complete stranger, after having already given the same information to the professional who issued the voucher in the first place (in our case a health visitor) is soul-destroying. It made me feel like a bad parent, that I had failed my son yet again (since we were living in the hostel then) and a useless member of society in general. The husband and I were already skipping meals to make sure Harry could eat, to ask for help to feed him (and we really were not thinking about ourselves) was a further blow to our already low self-esteem, yet I would go through it all every week if that was the only way I could feed Harry.

Heading to the Food Bank   Flickr   Photo Sharing

Is it not a good thing that intensive background checks are not carried out? Comprehensive checks take time and money; food bank users are in desperate need and by extension, do not have time to wait for food (I am sure most of us have experience of waiting on one agency or another to complete checks) and charities do not have the money to fund such checks. I dare say that if the charities running these places did put in more stringent measures, they would not have the money to help the people who need it! Again. I feel the need to point out that NO ONE WANTS to go to a food bank. I do have to wonder if more stringent checks were somehow put in place, would that put those who NEED the help from getting it?

I understand anger at people fraudulently claiming food parcels but, much like those that fraudulently claim benefits, they are in the minority. {For what it's worth, in 2011/12 the government estimated that £1.6 billion was overpaid due to fraud (including tax credits; they are a benefit you know?) which is less than 1% of the overall benefits expenditure and half the £2.2 billion which was paid out due to clerical error. Clerical error and claimant error combined led to £1.3 billion in benefits being underpaid. You can find further information from the Citizen's Advice here.}

I noted how a point was made about some users having smart phones and Sky TV packages, both in the article and the comments. Again, I am not sure what the point of that was? Food banks are there, primarily, to help those people in immediate need, such as when there is a delay in money being paid into their bank account, whether that be through a benefit or through wages, to help during a crisis. Such luxuries could well have been purchased prior to the crisis happening, they could be on a contract which one is tied into, purchased through credit or, heaven forbid, a gift?

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is clear that the Mail on Sunday reporters had one agenda and one agenda only; that was to discredit and undermine the good work that food banks do. There were no interviews with or comments from those that use the services, no hints at all in fact that there were other people there except the reporters themselves and the volunteers who help run the services. I would have thought the job of an investigative reporter is, or at least should be, to get a proper insight. Perhaps if some of these reporters had taken the time to question people who were using the food banks on the days they were there, a different picture may well have been painted. However, this is the Daily Mail we are talking about; too much to ask I guess.

Sadly, for the Mail on Sunday at least, their plan somewhat backfired. OK, their hits no doubt sky-rocketed again, they can have that one. However, the reaction of the masses was one of disgust. Certainly on Twitter the general consensus seemed to be along the lines of "Why would someone who doesn't need it, take food from a charity designed to help those in need?" and shock at the attempts to discredit the Trussell Trust and, by extension, other similar projects.

Twitter foodbanks

Twitter   Search   trussell trust

Twitter   Search   foodbank

The very sad fact of the matter is that in a supposedly rich country, food banks are needed and they are needed largely due to the cuts in the welfare state. Of course awareness of them has increased, it has increased because people are going hungry, in the UK, in 2014.

Figures from the Trussell Trust
Figures from the Trussell Trust

Despite the attempts from the Mail on Sunday to tarnish the Trussell Trust's good work, they in fact did the opposite. The charity have seen an unprecedented soar in donations to their campaign. So, for once, we can thank the Daily Mail for something.

Trussell Trust Appeal is fundraising for The Trussell Trust

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

66 thoughts on “A Food Bank User’s Perspective

  1. Fantastic post! A lot more well reasoned than the Daily Mail could ever hope to be. Yes, there might be a small people who manage to claim food they are not entitled to, but fundamentally food banks are there to help people in need, and there an awful lot of people in need. On the whole these will be people who want to work (or even are working), but are just going through a rough patch and absolutely hate having to accept charity, but have no choice but to do it to feed their kids. And, as you say, that has to be your number one priority as a parent.
    Sarah MumofThree World recently posted..The Gallery: EasterMy Profile

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  2. Great post. I think food banks are doing a really great job of stopping people going hungry and unfortunately there will always be the minority of liars or "journalists" that take full advantage. But they hit the nail on the head when they say they would rather give to a few journalists by accident than make someone go hungry. Shame on the newspaper. If you could call them that.
    Notmyyearoff recently posted..4 ways to furnish your home on a budgetMy Profile

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  3. I read that article and my 1st thought was "what checks was he expecting?".
    It was yet another article that was made to make the *rich* feel justified.
    The......*There couldn't be a need........I'm fine* breed.
    Well written,.and far more informed than the original trash xx
    OJo Henley recently posted..Muddled DaysMy Profile

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    1. Post author

      I'd never wish the situation we've been in on anyone, it's demoralising and upsetting but all it takes for most people is one event with tragic consequences and bamn, they will need help.

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  4. What a stupid newspaper! As you say, why would charities spend hours and money on checks if that hinders the amount of food supply they can offer? The whole DM article is just bullshit. But then, there's no surprise there, I guess.
    from fun to mum recently posted..The Nanny SituationMy Profile

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  5. Tattooed mummy

    The main thing that annoyed me about the article was that they are charities. Not tax payer funded, they can give all the food towho ever they want to. It's actually no business of the daily fail at all who gets what from a charity. And as to chocolate pudding, lots of food is donated not bought by the charity, does he suggest if chocolate is donated it should be thrown away? Idiot article by an idiot paper.

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  6. I hope that the reporter gave BACK the food that he didn't need.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. I've lived on benefits as a single mum and know how demoralising it can be to have to ask for help for basics in life. Don't judge...one day you might find yourself in a situation that you have no control over...the world and humanity sometimes has a severe lack of empathy and compassion when you read articles like the Daily Fail.
    Michelle recently posted..Serendipity [Project 365:2014 - Day 112]My Profile

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    1. Post author

      I read something recently that an awful lot of us are just one month from being in such dire straits, largely due to the cost of living and not being able to afford to save. Compassion goes a long way indeed.

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  7. I totally agree with your post. I'm not really sure who the MoS were trying to have a go at in their original article and I'm so pleased that yet again the British public saw absolute sense and responded accordingly. There is no reason that anyone in this country should go hungry. The charities do their absolute best for those in need.
    Stella Branch recently posted..Project 365 Photo A Day Week 5My Profile

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  8. Great article. You are right to point out inconsistencies in DM piece as well as insinuating that someone in need doesn't deserve anything other than basics. Shocking too that a hungry person should dare to return NINE times for food in FOUR months to feed her family. What a nerve she has asking for food that has been donated for people like .... HER.
    Have never used a food bank myself but can't imagine it's a place of choice for anyone.
    Suggest you send your article to other newspapers and BBC News and Consumer Affairs Progs.
    Good on you!! Jo x

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  9. This is an excellent post and as such is a complete contrast to what was one of the very worst stories I have ever seen in a publication which really can't, by any stretch of the imagination, be called a newspaper. Naturally if the number of food banks increases and people become more aware of their existence then there will be an increase in the numbers of people able to make use of them; that's basic economics. Surely we should be applauding the many volunteers who give up their time to do such sterling work facilitating the process of keeping our nation alive rather than slamming them for the odd occasion when someone may be given a food parcel who 'may' not meet the Daily Mail's strict interpretation of being in need. If I donate food to a food bank that is my choice and I will allow that food bank to distribute that food as it sees fit. If I believe it is unable to do this then it is up to me to find another way of giving help. I can think of few things worse than being unable to satisfy my family's basic food requirements let alone being unable to give them treats; it is unthinkable that we would then decide to set up even more obstacles in the way of people who need help to do this. As to the comment about chocolate pudding, even during the war people had a sugar ration. When my children choose items to put in the food bank basket they always choose chocolate biscuits because they realise how lucky they are to be able to go the cupboard and help themselves. Why shouldn't we afford that same experience to others?
    Perhaps the Daily Mail is really advocating a return to the Poor House? Or maybe that would be regarded as too soft too?

    Well done Mummyglitzer for tackling such an important issue.
    Frazzled Mum recently posted..Don’t Judge!My Profile

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  10. Sadly, often the media have a story in mind and then set out to get it rather than uncovering anything useful and it seems this is what they've done here. We have a local food back via a local church which i trust completely about the judgements they make and they've no doubt helped in hundreds of situations. Hopefully, like you are doing, people will raise awareness of food banks as a result and it will have a positive outcome afterall. x
    TheBeesleyBuzz recently posted..Respect The Pasta challenge 3: Re-respecting the Pasta!My Profile

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  11. ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT & very well put. I helped at our food bank and called in on christmas week as we donated selection boxes instead of sending christmas cards. Seeing the lady who went home with selection boxes for her kids with her food was worth it, but heartbreaking.
    You should send this to the newspaper.
    Nortonmum recently posted..Tell me something old friend.My Profile

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    1. Post author

      The "newspaper" wouldn't want to publish what I have said for fear of swaying their voters. I am honoured you think it worthy of being published though, thank you x

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  12. Lesley

    Great blog and as a very recent user of a food bank myself, I can say it's not that easy to get the help. Firstly I had to visit the local CAB to ask for support as my JSA had been sanctioned and I was awarded Hardship Allowance of a massive £43 per week. Consider that my electric and gas per week were £30 and my bedroom tax was £10. This left me a massive £3 per week to feed myself and get whatever else I needed. It's not easy to open up your financial life to a complete stranger. It's also very hard to actually admit "I'm not coping". For me the food bank help was a blessing and I was lucky enough to get 6 weeks help from them. I didn't get around to taking a picture of what I got but lets just say I have enough tins, pasta and packets to last me until my benefit is back to what it was in about a months time. I also could have made tea for my whole area with the tea bags they kept trying to give me, I don't drink tea so I kept giving them back.

    Oh yes and most weeks we did get non-essentials like a packet of biscuits or 'hold your hands up in shock' - a chocolate bar. The people at our local food bank were lovely. You were never made to feel bad for being there. You were greeted warmly and always offered a cuppa and a biscuit or even some soup.

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  13. Simon Smith

    Awesome article! Really loved the way you challenged the total rubbish that the 'newspaper' (more like toilet paper) reported. I happen to know a lot about the Matthew Tree Project as I have volunteered for them collecting food in the past and as such find it refreshing that the general public weren't taken in by the nonsense spouting forth from the governments' paid media outlet. I just wonder how those who criticise food banks would feel if they were turned away for 'not being in need enough'? There's a wonderful thing in this world, it's called compassion for your fellow man (or indeed woman). I like to practise what my faith teaches me, and helping those in need is how I choose to do it. Not because I have to, but because I realised while homeless myself that there is always someone worse off than me. The Government needs to pull it's head out of it's collective rear end and actually wake up to the facts. Fact is too many people are living below the breadline in a supposedly rich and prosperous country.

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    1. Post author

      When I first saw it I was worried that people might agree but was so relieved to see different and for people to show how strongly they felt through donations as well as voicing their outrage. I think that having gone through homelessness it teaches you more about humility and compassion than any of the editors or senior staff of the Mail could ever hope to learn and for that, I shall forever be grateful. And you are right, the Government need to wake up to the facts, it is appalling that people are going hungry in this country.

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  15. I had to go to a food bank, the day I got the all-clear from Cancer. My not being able to work during my treatment, meant I used my years allowance of statutory sick pay. I was told the only thing I could claim instead, was ESA. After applying, I was told I couldn't have ESA as I hadn't paid enough National Insurance. So I had no money coming in and my husbands wage only took care of the rent.

    We got to the point, on that day, four days before Christmas, where we had no money for food, let alone a Christmas dinner. A cancer care centre, where I was receiving counselling, gave me a food bank voucher. I felt awful going to claim it. Like I didn't deserve it. I even felt that I had to explain, that the brand new 2013 car I showed up in, wasn't mine (it really wasn't my car - I was testing it for a review on my blog). I came away from the food bank, with 97 items to feed my family of 5 for one week. Items that included everything from cereal and pasta, to tins of quality street and Christmas puddings. The food bank (and some very special friends and family who bought us some fresh produce as a Christmas gift) saved Christmas for us. It meant we wouldn't go hungry and that we could even enjoy a few chocolate treats over Christmas. I can't explain how thankful I was for that. For more children, more than anything.

    Since then, we have been gradually putting items in a box. Now that I am back at work part time, we are going to donate 97 items, back to the food bank, as soon as we have enough.

    Food banks are essential, for those who have nowhere to turn. We didn't put ourselves in a position of poverty - shit happened. Yes there will always be people who claim from a food bank, because they can't be bothered to work, but there are also so many people who genuinely need it, be it for a week, or for a year.
    Emma Day recently posted..I’m STILL going to walk 104 miles in MayMy Profile

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  16. An excellent post.

    The Daily Mail article made me sick to the pit of my stomach. Despicable 'journalism' even by their very low standards.

    Why on earth people think that because a very tiny minority of people abuse something, we should take away safety nets for everyone else is beyond me.

    I thought the Trussell Trust's response was very dignified too.

    Thank you for posting this. Off to share.

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    1. Post author

      I honestly thought they couldn't get much lower. Fraudulently taking food meant for those that need it is just about the lowest I think. Thank you for commenting and sharing. x

      Reply
  17. Really interesting to hear from a food bank users point of view. I've no personal experience, apart from seeing them collecting for food banks in the supermarkets. I'm not really surprised that the DM made a screw up, but I guess if it's led to more donations, there is a positive.

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  18. So glad donations have gone up as a result of that crappy article. Yes there are some people who abuse the system, but the vast majority don't and who are we to judge anyway. Far better the food banks are there to help those who really need it and it does make such a difference. Mich x
    Michelle Twin Mum recently posted..I love my home #GreatBritishHomeMy Profile

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  19. Bestwood & Bulwell Foodbank

    Hi, from the foodbank that was scammed - thank you for writting this.

    Reply
    1. Lesley

      I haven't read the original article but that was one of the first things that I thought. "OMG they've taken a weeks worth of food away from somebody who REALLY NEEDED IT! " it's actually quite shocking to scam a food bank in the name of 'journalism'.

      BTW keep up the good work, these services are really needed, which is quite shocking in this day.

      Reply
    2. Post author

      I am pleased that the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, which I am sure is not what the Fail were hoping for. Keep up the good work and thank you for reading. x

      Reply
  20. Fantastic post. Foodbanks do great work and I'm glad the article didn't have the effect the journalist wanted. There seems to be a culture of blaming the poor for their circumstances but allowing the rich to dodge tax.

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  21. That paper never ceases to underwhelm me with its stories. I think it was disgusting. Seriously, what checks were expected? Any family would starve whilst they paperwork was being completed. I was just horrified. I know families who are poor and work themselves to the bone (whose children I teach) and it takes so much courage to ask for food to feed a family that you can't support yourself, no matter how hard you try. They should be ashamed. Sadly they never are.

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  22. I actually fume at stuf like this, there a re honest people who are actually needing these services or help and when you have people who disuse it as a freebie and grab system its irritating to say the least. I know not one but two families who used the food bank each week , got food and money and not just the odd small costly amount either but infact quite a substantial amount each week and used it so they could treat themselves to extra things alot of people want but can not buy like alcohol or new phones and tvs, computers and yes even cigarettes, it makes me sick that people are using the food bank to save thmselves money yet forgetting that it is there for those who truly are struggling to feed there families

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  23. Great to hear from your perspective. I am sure most people would rather not have to ask for help but it is great there is help available for those who need it. There are always going to be people who try to abuse and put down these kind of things unfortunately.
    Mummy of Two recently posted..The Sky’s the limit with TalkTalkMy Profile

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  24. I will start by telling you that I agree with you 100%. I know there are a lot of people out there who are in desperate need of food and whose dignity doesn't allow them to visit food banks. Reporters will always turn a story around to prove a point and they should be taken with a pinch of salt...
    oana79 recently posted..Baby troublesMy Profile

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  25. Wow, thanks for sharing your perspective. As someone who is on benefits but otherwise has never been poor or in need financially, I find it interesting to hear from someone who has actually had to use the food bank.
    Astrid recently posted..Long-Term (S)care PlanningMy Profile

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  26. Brilliant post highlighting two things, the necessity of food banks for those who really need them and the ridiculous newspaper story that really did not deserve publishing. I hate to think that we live in a society in these times when people are going hungry, it's a very sad time indeed. Then those with nothing, not even their pride, are bombarded with media that makes them out to be the scum of the earth and scroungers. Where has all the compassion gone? Yes, some people in the past have abused the systems in place to help those in need, but as you pointed out, it's a very small minority, but a minority that gets a lot of media attention, then the obvious happens and all those in need are tarred with the same brush. It really does sicken me so I'm so happy to read posts like this that portray it all sensitively and more importantly, correctly.
    Anne recently posted..Hetty Feather - The PlayMy Profile

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  28. Well done, such a great post. I think it is shocking that a newspaper would stoop that low and basically take food out of the mouths of people in need. I think awareness is rising and people are becoming more public spirited in giving to food banks. I hope that continues, most of us aren't that far away from needing this kind of support x
    You Baby Me Mummy recently posted..I’m going to BritMums LiveMy Profile

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  29. Fantastic post. I think the real scandal is that the current economic climate and social support available force people to turn to food banks, not that in some minority cases they are abused. I also think there seems to be a large problem with some people having to turn to food banks to pay off massive repayments on pay-day loans. Newspapers should be concentrating on pressuring government to support people who desperately need help and getting rid of the get-rich-quick loan sharks that prey on the vulnerable on every high street and computer in the country.
    Kirsty recently posted..We’re Going on a Bear Hunt Mixed Media Preschool Art ProjectMy Profile

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  30. What a brave post to write. I hope that you do not feel bad now about going to claim food for Harry. This is certainly something only a good parent would do. I am so glad there are places where people can access food. I've seen people take rotting fruit from the bin after a market has been cleaned up just because they were so hungry and it's no way to live. I have shared this very well written post. So glad that the Daily Fail's attempts actually backfired and helped.
    Pinkoddy recently posted..£15 Sun Holiday Codes April 2014My Profile

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  31. A great post! The article written by the Daily Mail is not only contradicting itself but is also trying to damage something which, for the majority of families that access the service must be a god send. I canot imagine not knowing how you are going to feed your children and having the food bank charities they are ensuring that people do not go hungry x
    Kirsty - Hijacked by Twins recently posted..Word of the Week - 25th April 2014My Profile

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  32. What a great post and another glaring reason why people should avoid the lies that the Daily Mail seems so eager to spread. If anything people should feel supported not ridiculed for needing a facility like this. x
    Lori recently posted..BROCCOLI AND OTHER BITSMy Profile

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  33. What a fantastic post, it's nice that people saw through what they were trying to do and seem to have rallied to support the charity.

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