Figures obtained by Brent Council showed a worrying increase in the demand for food banks in Brent and across the UK. In response a scrutiny task group was established in August 2017, chaired by Cllr Roxanne Mashari, to look into the underlying causes of why people are being forced to use food banks; what are the impacts of food poverty on local communities; and how public, voluntary and private sector partners can work more strategically together to make sure people are getting the help and support they need. Andrew Dakers, CEO, West London Business (WLB) joined the task group to bring a private sector perspective to the exercise.
There are currently more than 2,000 food banks operating the UK, but this does not include informal food parcel distribution by social welfare charities, children’s centres, churches, housing association, hospitals and other groups.
Cllr Mashari said: “In 2017 it should shame us all that anyone should have to choose between paying their rent or feeding their families. In the absence of a comprehensive policy approach to food banks from central government, Brent is leading the way by gathering our own evidence, developing policies and innovating for change”.
The task group has made 36 individual recommendations, across the four key areas outlined in its Terms of Reference. The report was presented to Brent Council’s ‘Resources & Public Realm Scrutiny’ committee on 27 November 2017. Next the report will go to the Council’s Cabinet for review. The recommendations have been grouped into six discovery themes which the task group believes should for the basis of future engagement, partnership working and policy development plans with Brent’s Food banks and Community Kitchens. Recommendations 17-19 are where WLB has committed to more partnership working in 2018 to help address some of the infrastructure and supply gaps.
Gathering evidence, the task group found that the six weeks wait after assessment before any benefits are in place under the current Universal Credit structure is pushing many people into financial crisis. As a result, food banks in Brent are extremely apprehensive about the impact of the full roll out of Universal Credit next year.
Statistics provided by Sufra NW London, one of the three official food banks in Brent, show that 42% of people using food banks are individuals awaiting payment of benefits.
In terms of the impact of food poverty in the local communities, concern is focused on the vulnerable residents such as the elderly, disabled and children. Children and young people’s education are known to suffer dramatically when they go to school hungry. The stigma and stereotyping of individuals who need to rely on food bank is also an area of concern.
The task group reported that the private sector has a critical ongoing role in helping food banks provide for their users. Support options include the donation of surplus food by food producers in the borough (notably Park Royal) and other in-kind support (e.g. additional storage space for food banks, and lawyers to provide pro bono legal advice), as well as cash donations.
Andrew Dakers, CEO, West London Business, stated: “One part of London where food banks shouldn’t be running out of food is here in Brent. Park Royal is known as ‘London’s Kitchen’ and it is on our doorstep. However the challenge would seem to be building the cold storage supply chain in/out of food banks so that surplus fresh food can be utilised.”