The Shropshire Food Poverty Alliance (SFPA) was formed in 2017 in response to growing concerns in Shropshire’s community about growing levels of food insecurity. Its membership includes Citizens Advice Shropshire, Shropshire Council, Age UK Shropshire Telford and Wrekin and food banks operating across the whole of Shropshire
Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020 we have been assisting with the county’s crisis response. We have helped to administer grants to food banks to keep their supplies steady while coordinating the storage and delivery of around 123 pallets of store cupboard food to food aid providers across Shropshire. We have also hosted monthly food bank meetings where these organisations have shared their experiences of working on the frontline.
And what we have learnt over this period is this: we will never solve food poverty with food parcels.
This is not to diminish the tireless work of food banks to support their communities. They have and continue to be a vital lifeline for many. It is instead to acknowledge that food poverty is poverty. The driving force behind it is insecure and insufficient income. It is about acknowledging that it isn’t right, or fair that anyone should have to rely on a food parcel to survive. Everyone should have the right to be able to afford enough nutritious, appropriate food for themselves and their families. It is also about realising that food banks are run often on an entirely voluntary basis. Their teams are overstretched and under-resourced and the burden of food insecurity should not fall on their shoulders.
For us, working with the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) to co-produce a ‘Worrying About Money?’ leaflet for Shropshire has been a fantastic opportunity to create a practical, localised resource which helps people in financial crisis, and those supporting them, to navigate the various forms of support available in the area. But the process has also helped to start a conversation that we desperately needed to have about how food banks will not solve food poverty nor are they the most dignified way to support people.
Linking our alliance in with the national ‘cash first’ agenda has also helped our work in other ways:
- Conversations have started around the root causes of food poverty and the best way to resolve it. We have had brilliant engagement from our local media and have forged connections with new organisations who are now using the leaflet as a resource.
launch event and training sessions we have run alongside the dissemination of the leaflet have had great feedback - frontline staff have found them invaluable. These sessions have also bought together people who are motivated to work on issues surrounding poverty and we have gone on to have meetings with focus groups of individuals keen to work on key issues such as stigma.
- Working to co-develop the cash first referral leaflet meant that when the DWP Household Support Fund was announced we were primed and ready to approach conversations with our local authority about the best way this fund might be used. We, along with other voluntary sector organisations in Shropshire, have been consulted and the process has been more transparent than it has ever been. We have been encouraged to see much of this fund allocated to cash first payments for low-income families.
As Covid slowly starts to loosen its grip on the UK, we are seeing the impact of yet another crisis on the ground. The rising cost of living and the cut to Universal Credit means that we are currently experiencing food bank numbers in Shropshire at their highest ever levels. At our most recent food bank meeting, we heard that many have recently seen the most common reason behind their referrals change from ‘benefits delays and sanctions’ to ‘low income’. Or put another way: people both in and out of work simply do not have enough money to cover life’s essentials.
The Shropshire ‘Worrying About Money?’ leaflet is not going to solve poverty, we need systemic policy change to do that, but it does help people find ways to maximise income and reduce the need for a food bank. What’s more it helps ‘cash first’ referral leaflet stakeholders, in the multiple local authority areas across the UK, collectively call for change in the knowledge that income-based solutions are the answer to food poverty.
Now more than ever we need to continue to say what we know to be true. The best and most dignified way we can tackle the growing problem of food insecurity is to make sure people have enough money to be able to afford a reasonable standard of living. Charitable food aid will only ever act as a sticking plaster, it will never let us address the root causes of poverty.