Tackling the stigma of relying on foodbanks

Social landlords can and should play a role in tackling the stigma attached to using foodbanks and receiving emergency help with food, argues Paul Dolan

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Research found that demand for food parcels is set to soar by 61% this winter (picture: Getty)
Research found that demand for food parcels is set to soar by 61% this winter (picture: Getty)
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Social landlords can and should play a role in tackling the stigma attached to using foodbanks and receiving emergency help with food, argues @PaulDolan0709, chief executive of @AccentHousing #UKhousing

“We need to limit the long-lasting damage that could be caused by the shame individuals often experience when they access emergency food,” says @PaulDolan0709, chief executive of @AccentHousing #UKhousing

By midday on Monday, 880,000 people had signed Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford’s petition to provide food for children during this current half-term and the Christmas break.

As more and more of us acknowledge just how many within our society are unable to afford to eat well, the housing sector’s More than Homes campaign, which aims to raise £1m for The Trussell Trust, is nearly six months in.

“We need to not only push ahead and meet our £1m fundraising target, but also try to limit the long-lasting damage that could be caused by the shame individuals often experience when they access emergency food”

The coronavirus crisis has continued, and we’ve stepped up, raising well in excess of £200,000 to the national foodbank charity through the National Housing Federation, Chartered Institute of Housing and Northern Housing Consortium-backed campaign.

However, the number of people we house who are relying on emergency food is continuing to rise. Research published by The Trussell Trust in September estimated that demand for food parcels is set to soar by 61% this winter compared with the same period last year.


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In light of this, we need to not only push ahead and meet our £1m fundraising target, but also try to limit the long-lasting damage that could be caused by the shame individuals often experience when they access emergency food.

“One of the reasons Mr Rashford’s ongoing campaign to extend free school meals throughout school holidays has been so powerful, is the fact he has been so willing to open up about his own experiences of hunger when he was young”

Research, titled Stigma, shame and ‘people like us’: an ethnographic study of foodbank use in the UK, published in the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice in 2016, found the majority of foodbank users feel stigma, fear and embarrassment.

However, the two-year study also discovered that these negative feelings were overcome when individuals realised others who they considered to be people like themselves also needed to rely on food parcels.

Indeed, one of the reasons Mr Rashford’s ongoing campaign to extend free school meals throughout school holidays has been so powerful, is the fact he has been so willing to open up about his own experiences of hunger when he was young.

Understanding that we are all caught up in the fallout from this global pandemic, which not one of us is responsible for, is important. The More than Homes campaign must offer the housing sector an opportunity to talk about this and share the stories of those who have needed to access emergency food.

We have to emphasise that turning towards sources of help and support – including foodbanks – at times of crisis is a positive step, not an admission of defeat.

That’s why, in the run up to Christmas, we’ll be launching a new More than Homes fundraising drive and also publishing a toolkit for housing providers to use when sharing local stories and case studies about foodbanks with journalists and other stakeholders.

“We’re urging the housing sector to join us in talking about emergency food and how it has helped our residents and their children to stay healthy during this difficult time”

The ‘See the Person’ campaign’s Overcoming the stigma of social housing report, based on research published by the London School of Economics in 2018, outlined how 90% of tenants believe there are negative stereotypes around people who live in social housing. This negativity, the study found, affected tenants’ sense of well-being. Two years on, there’s now far more to contend with.

Not least the fact that overall employment in the UK has fallen by 480,000 since the beginning of this year, with the Office for National Statistics finding that people aged 16 to 24 account for 60% of the decline.

Beyond Christmas, past this current government and after the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals will potentially have to deal with their experiences of adversity continuing to drag them down.

As well as contributing cash to More than Homes, we’re urging the housing sector to join us in talking about emergency food and how it has helped our residents and their children to stay healthy during this difficult time.

In the long-term, The Trussell Trust believes no one should have to rely on a foodbank and will continue campaigning to end the need for foodbanks in the UK. In the meantime, let’s get together to commend the fact the charity is there to help the many people who need them right now.

Paul Dolan, chief executive, Accent Group

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