Food banks in Glasgow struggling to stay afloat

30 October 2019

Mosspark Baptist Church opens its doors to those in need of food. Photo: Jacob Nicol

Every Wednesday, the Mosspark Baptist Church opens its doors from 12 to 2pm as a Trussell Trust food bank. On arrival, you are greeted by many volunteers who are handing out food parcels to local people in need of food.

Most of these people will have been referred by either a doctor, health visitor, social worker or Citizens Advice, and have been issued food vouchers to exchange for suitable emergency food.

Claire McCunnie, development officer at the Trussell Trust Glasgow South West food bank, told The Glasgow Sloth that this is currently the busiest food bank in Scotland.

“The numbers that we are seeing are astronomical and absolutely shocking. Last year we fed 12,770. The year previous to that was 8,821. So, there was a huge jump between year to year.”

Trussell Trust food banks rely heavily on food donations from the public, which are sorted into emergency food parcels by thousands of volunteers across the country. Food donations come from individuals and a wide variety of organisations, such as supermarkets, trade unions, schools and churches.

The people who seek food parcels also come from a wide variety of different backgrounds.

“We see single men, single mothers, families, asylum seeking families, it can be your next-door neighbour.”  said McCunnie. “People often have this perception that it’s this sort of person, or that sort of person, but it can be literally anybody.”

McCunnie expressed her disbelief that food banks in the south side of Glasgow remain in such high demand since opening in 2013.

“I genuinely thought when I started the job, it would be five years. At this point we are looking at least two more governments. It’s going to take time, nothing is going to happen overnight, which scares the absolute daylights out of me because I think it’s absolutely shocking that we are here.”

The Trussell Trust funds its food banks through national partnerships and financial grants. However, Ian McGregor, volunteer and trustee at the Trussell Trust Glasgow South West food bank, explained that their local food banks have been recently facing financial issues.

“Our running costs are about five to six thousand per month, and our regular income is about a thousand per month, which are standing orders which people have taken out. So there’s obviously a funding gap of a fairly large scale.

“We’ve had no funding from any level of government, apart from about six and a bit thousand from the council about four to five years ago, that let us take on Clare basically. We haven’t had anything since then.”

There is also the issue of other charities, similarly suffering from insufficient funding, referring people in need to Trussell Trust food banks. This puts further pressure on the resources of food banks, who are seeing increasing numbers of people in poverty seeking their services.

“We’re supporting charities that you wouldn’t have thought needed support.” explained McGregor. “You wouldn’t have thought we’d be supporting the Red Cross or the Salvation Army. But these are both charities that are referring people to us because they have got scarce resources.”

With the demand for food rapidly rising, the Glasgow South West food bank were recently forced to put a limit on the number of food vouchers they can provide.

“As austerity has kicked in, the need has grown greater and greater.” McGregor says. “I couldn’t say for sure that we’ll be here this time next year. Our biggest hope is to close when we’re not needed, our biggest fear is to close when we’re still needed.”

Along with concerns around funding, McGregor also fears that food banks as a whole are starting to become more institutionalised within British society.

“I’m not convinced that governments should be funding foodbanks, I think they should be making them unnecessary. We’re hoping to get more funding though the Trussell Trust arrangement with Asda, which worries me a little bit having read about the food bank and food poverty sector industry in America.

“Food stamps and so on are very heavily supported by Walmart who own Asda. But when it comes to supporting living wages, which would be an amazing contribution to lifting people out of poverty, they are strangely opposed to it. So is it crumbs from the rich man’s table?”

With the recent introduction of Universal Credit, the new means-tested benefit for people of working age on a low income, food banks are now taking over more of the responsibilities that were for decades provided by the government welfare system.

Recent research on Universal Credit has found that the new welfare benefit’s built-in five week wait for payment has fuelled claimant poverty and increased food bank use. These findings are illustrated by McCunnie who explains that she has recently seen a rise in one group in particular using food banks.

“What we’ve seen is an increase in single mothers. Once your child turns five, you don’t get a certain benefit anymore. That’s a huge shock to people when they go on Universal Credit, I don’t think they realise how quick it can be.

“People should be able to live. They should be getting help to manage money if that’s the situation. Too many times, a lot of organisations that are government funded, the likes of the DWP [Department of Work and Pensions] as well, they are just like ‘The food bank will deal with you, because we don’t want to.’ As a society, you can’t go [on] like that.”

Infographic: Jacob Nicol. Sources: The Trussell Trust and GlasgowLive

David Walsh, public health programme manager at Glasgow Centre for Population Health, argues that the recent stalling of life expectancy in Scotland appears to be clearly linked with the introduction of Universal Credit.

“With current UK policies around welfare reform and removing part of the social safety net, what we’ve now seen in some places is a slowdown in life expectancy improvements. The more vulnerable populations are being affected and we’ve seen actual increases in the death rates in the poorest areas now in both England and Scotland.”

Dr Gerry McCartney, head of the Scottish Public Health Observatory, explains how poverty leads to people having poorer health compared to people who are more well-off.

“What you find over time is that the more affluent groups are always the ones that are least exposed to the harms of specific things, whether that be alcohol, drugs or violence, and that again happens though a variety of pathways.

“If you go back 50-60 years, smoking rates were mostly equal across social groups, but as it became clearer that smoking was bad for health, the most people who were able to give up smoking were more affluent groups because they had more resources at their disposal and they found it easier to do so. The same is true of alcohol and the like as well.”

On top of the stalling of life expectancy, Walsh believes that, if the current UK policies remain in place for the considerable future, health inequality will very likely continue to widen in Glasgow.

“Generally speaking, the gap is widening, so the excess is becoming more. Until very recently, health was improving in Glasgow as it has for decades overall, but the point being it was improving more slowly than elsewhere, so you get this widening gap. Therefore, the excess is increasing.”

While there are many complex factors behind the rise in health inequality, it is clear that poverty is a key driver in influencing poor health.

“The single most important reason for poor health in Glasgow is about poverty.” Walsh explains. “There are all sorts of appalling statistics showing for example that one in three children are currently living in poverty.

“The links between poverty and health are undeniable and very clearly proven over decades, if not centuries, of research.”

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