My parents are members of a growing group of forty thousand volunteers that collectively give over four million hours per year at food banks set up and run by their church, community, or a charity to support those struggling to buy food. The Black Country Food Bank is one of over 2,200 food banks in the UK that give out emergency food parcels at least once per week.
A food bank is a charitable resource which distributes food to those in need of it at least once a week.
Food banks began appearing in the UK around 2000 when the Trussell Trust opened its first in Salisbury. As of February 2021, the independent charity Trussell Trust runs over 1300 of the nation’s food banks, with a further 900 independent food banks registered with the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN). Food backs were started in the US in the 1960s and are now present in many healthy countries. According to the food aid network, over half of the registered food banks in the UK are run by Christian groups, 43% by secular groups, with the remaining run by other religious groups such as Sikhs and Muslims.
According to the Trussell Trust, “people use food banks only when they really have to“, with referrals to these services living on an average of £50 per week after housing costs and 20% saying they have had no income at all in the month before they receive a food parcel. These people often have to choose between paying to keep their home, gas and electricity, and food. 75% of households that use food banks have at least one member with a health issue, and 54% are somehow affected by mental health problems. Problems with the introduction of Universal Credit and cuts to public services have increased the use of Food Banks by 73% over the last five years, and 75% of the existing food banks have opened since the banking crisis in 2008.
Stats on usage increases over the last year vary and use a variety of time frames. According to the Government’s Food banks in the UK report, the number of emergency food parcels provided by Trussell Trust during the pandemic has increased by 47% to over two and a half million, and 88% from independent providers according to IFAN. Pre-pandemic, the Trussell Trust State of hunger report estimated that up to 2% of UK households had used a food bank in 2018/19. Since the pandemic, the number has risen to 7% and 13% of those with children, according to Government COVID-9 consumer research.
The food that makes up the emergency parcels is provided primarily by individual donations but is supported by the UK Government, supermarket chains, and local businesses. The public gives up to 90% of the food handed out by the Trussel Trust; you can find out how to donate to your local bank on their website.
You can read the governments full research briefing on Food Banks in the UK on the House of Commons Library website.
GiveDirectly is a charity that gives money directly to people living in poverty. The non-profit believes that by giving these people cash instead of other forms of aid, they can make choices that improve their lives. GiveDirectly’s research suggests that instead of buying alcohol, these people purchase medicine, livestock, schooling, clean water, renewable energy generators, and some use the money to start businesses. With no strings attached, cash is better for people living in extreme poverty in the most deprived places in the world. It allows individuals to get what they need rather than rely on international organisations to make educated guesses based on national or regional needs. Allowing cash to be spent in local businesses has so far shown to improved the economy with very little inflation.
GiveWell is an independent non-profit that lists the most high-impact and cost-effective charities that save or improve lives. GiveWell suggests supporting cash transfers for extreme poverty through GiveDirectly is one of the nine most impactful ways you can donate. They report that $83 of every $100 donated goes directly to participants of the charities programmes and that research shows this money improves recipients lives. You can read a full report into the charities impact on the GiveWell website.
GiveDirectly’s funders and partners include UK Aid, USAID, Google.org, Givewell, Good Ventures, and The life you can save. Current cash transfer programmes include:
The Basic income project is the largest and longest-term Universal Basic Income (UBI) experiment globally and is run in partnership with researchers at MIT and Princeton University. The project is working in rural Kenya with 295 villages in the Western and Rift Valley region. There are four groups; a long term and a short term group that is given $0.75 per adult per day monthly for 12 years and two years, a lump sum group was assigned the same amount as the short term group but in a single one-off payment, and a control group. So far, the cash transfers recipients have shown improvements to well-being measures including hunger, sickness, and depression and have so far weathered the pandemic better than the control group.
It is important to note that this is a study on the long-term effects of giving cash to people living in some of the world’s most impoverished areas and not studying how UBI might work in more prosperous regions like the UK. I am interested in the impact of the project, and I want to support it financially. The idea of giving money to those in extreme poverty over other types of aid makes sense intuitively, and I like that such a detailed study is being carried out to understand if this is a better way to end poverty.