In a country that prides itself on being one of the richest in Europe, why is poverty such a prevailing issue? While the issue of hunger may not be something we immediately associate with the UK, there are over 14 million people living in poverty who are struggling to find enough food to survive. Locally, about one-third of Twerton’s children live in poverty.
These issues are particularly poignant in Bath, an affluent city where the rich live alongside the poor. Between 2017 and 2018, the Bath Food Bank gave emergency food packages to over 4,000 individuals. This was an increase of 36% from the year before. Of those receiving help, a quarter were children, mostly under the age of 11. This increasing demand for the Food Bank’s services begs investigation of the situation.
According the Trussell Trust, a nationwide hunger charity, the top three reasons for the use of foodbanks in Bath in 2017/18 were low income, benefit delays and benefit changes. Other drivers include illness, domestic abuse and homelessness. The Trust argues that the Universal Credit system bears significant responsibility for the rise in food banks. Across their 1,200 food banks in the UK, the charity has seen a 52% increase in usage since the programme was introduced in 2010. They assert that the five week waiting time between an application being made and payment being received is forcing many people to food banks. The charity is currently lobbying the government for this to be reduced.
Despite this political element of the hunger issue, individual food banks maintain an apolitical stance. The Chair of Bath Food Bank, Tim Harris, told us that their prime objective is to give support to people in times of crisis. This support is intended to be temporary and the foodbank often collaborates with other authorities to tackle the underlying issues that force individuals to seek support.
Bath Food Bank is run in partnership with local churches and the Genesis Trust, a Bath-based charity that works with disadvantaged people. The Food Bank runs from three locations: Manvers Street, Twerton, and Southdown, though only the Manvers Street site is open five days a week. In order to use a foodbank, people must be given a voucher by one of the local welfare agencies. Once referred, they can redeem their vouchers for a three-day food package containing a range of foods, including cereals, bread and tinned meat. The packages can also be adapted to gluten free, halal and vegetarian diets.
A foodbank, however, only offers a partial safety net. In a six month period, individuals can be allocated a maximum of three vouchers, which is equivalent to nine days worth of food. While Tim assured us that Bath’s foodbank is equipped enough to extend the three voucher limit if necessary, many others across the country experience shortages that can limit the scope of their activities.
Food banks mainly rely on volunteers to sustain their activities. They typically receive food donations from schools, churches and businesses and in 2017/18 collected about 47,000 kilograms of food supplies. In Bath, over 100 people regularly volunteer to provide, sort and deliver these supplies.
So, how does the University of Bath contribute?
According to the SU’s Volunteer Support Coordinator, Louisa Peters, the University has worked with the Food Bank on a few occasions. In February, the University’s V-Team recruited 18 students to work with the Food Bank for a week and in December, SU staff donated three boxes of supplies. The campus accommodation team also organise an end of year food collection, where departing freshers can donate any unwanted goods.
Other initiatives such as the Zurich Community Challenge are also undertaken. The 2013 challenge encouraged a group of students from the School of Management to provide administrative support to Bath charities, including the Food Bank. They did this by applying their business acumen to improve the bank’s publicity, funding and productivity.
A notable observation is the lack of a systematic donation system at the University. In the city of Bath there are 13 donation points, while the campus, with over 3,500 resident students and two supermarkets, does not have even one. The university certainly has the potential to give more to those in need but it must be acknowledged that students rarely have surplus food, money or time. Projects such as the Zurich Challenge could offer an alternative interesting way to utilise Bath’s academic strength to support disadvantaged communities and local charities.
Beyond university action, individual contributions are also very much required. If you would like to donate food to the Bath Food Bank, you can visit one of the donation sites in the city – the exact locations are visible on the ‘Give Help’ section of their website. You can also see the particular kinds of food the charity needs this month.
If you are planning on donating food it is important to make sure it isn’t opened, damaged or out of date. Better yet, if you are interested in volunteering with the Food Bank, you can contact them directly. They are always happy to take on volunteers. The website also has fundraising advice if you would like to raise money to support the charity.
It’s time we put the wealth of knowledge and people we have at our university to better communal use. With the impending crisis of homelessness in the city, there is no better way to give back to the society than donating whatever little our student budgets allow us and, more importantly, volunteering our time.