Feeding Britain: Manchester Foodbank's response

Volunteers unload food for redistribution at the Manchester Central Foodbank
Volunteers unload food for redistribution at the Manchester Central Foodbank

A year after being established by Members of both Houses of Parliament, Feeding Britain has this month published a report on the changing extent and causes of hunger in the UK. Among the groups that contributed to the research was the Manchester Central Foodbank – based at the Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy – which was the first student-led Foodbank in the country.  

Submissions from the Manchester Foodbank to the All-Party report are quoted four times in the report. They highlighted in particular the significant increase in demand they have seen over the past year, which resulted in a 50% increase in the number of food parcels provided, compared to 2014.

“We feel strongly that foodbanks are not here to cover for problems that have been caused by poorly implemented welfare reforms,” says the Manchester Central Foodbank Project Manager, Dan O'Brien. “They are not a replacement for the welfare state, and if they become institutionalised that will be because of complacency. This report is helpful in challenging us to be aware of that danger.”

Good food is being wastedDan O'Brien with Frank Field MP at the launch of the 'Feeding Britain' report

Feeding Britain was established in December 2014 by MPs and Peers on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty. As well as an audit of the recommendations they made at that time, the latest report sets out fresh proposals for ending hunger as we know it in the United Kingdom. Among the issues it highlights is the amount of good food from stores and businesses that is wasted, particularly if the surplus is created because of mislabelled packaging or through human error. This is an issue that has been experienced to a large extent in Manchester. “This year we have received a significant number of donations of short-dated but perfectly good quality food at our foodbank, which we have successfully redistributed to our users, a trend we hope to see continue into 2016,” says Dan.

The Government has accepted the 2014 recommendation from Feeding Britain of a ‘Yellow Card’ scheme in respect of benefit sanctions. This move is welcomed by Dan O’Brien. “Such a scheme may allow claimants the opportunity to explain their situation before a benefit sanction is applied,” he says. “This gives a bit of breathing space, so that people can plan instead of a sudden stop in income. This scheme is being piloted and we eagerly await the outcome of the results, given that benefit sanctions have led to many of our foodbank users having to rely on our service this year.”

Looking to the immediate future, staff and volunteers at the Manchester Central Foodbank hope that more will be done to tackle large scale food waste. But they would also like to see “a more thoughtful and human approach to welfare reform, so that the impact of even short-term delays on already vulnerable people is considered,” according to Dan O’Brien, pictured above (left) with Frank Field MP of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty.