“Foodbanks need to remain shocking and outrageous” – Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite
ACADEMIC turned foodbank volunteer Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite is lifting the lid on what life is really like for people who can’t afford to eat in her groundbreaking new book, Hunger Pains, published today.
It’s 21st Century Britain, the fifth largest economy in the world, but it has become the norm for supermarkets to provide collection points for shoppers to donate food they’ve just bought for strangers who don’t have that luxury.
The tins, packets and other non-perishables packets could end up in one of Stockton’s two Trussell Trust food banks where Kayleigh spent 18 months packing three days worth of vital supplies that went into each parcel.
As well as signposting people for more help, she sat and listened to the stories of hundreds of visitors who came though the doors, desperate for emergency food.
Their raw and brutally honest accounts form the basis of ‘Hunger Pains: Life inside Foodbank Britain’ (Policy Press 2016) – a book which Kayleigh hopes will make Government sit up and take action.
As a Leverhulme Trust funded researcher in the Centre for Health and Inequalities Research at Durham University, she explores issues of health inequalities, welfare reform, and austerity through ethnographic research.
She spoke to people like Anna and her 11-year-old daughter, Daisy, who were eating out-of-date food since Anna left her job due to mental health problems. Glen told her about the shame he felt using the foodbank having taken on a zero hours contract, while pregnant Jessica walked two miles to the foodbank because she couldn’t afford public transport.
“I still think about Anna and Daisy, I visited them at home and they had their whole life boxed up to put on eBay so they had money to get by. I got back in the car and cried on the way home – that happened quite often,” Kayleigh said.
“There’s no such thing as a typical food bank user – one woman I spoke to was a teacher in a private school living in an affluent area but had split up from her husband,” said who is also co-author of Poverty and insecurity: Life in ‘low-pay, no-pay’ Britain (Policy Press, 2012) which won the 2013 British Academy Peter Townsend Award.
“The view that most people need food banks because they’re lazy or they’ve spent all their money on drugs or alcohol isn’t true.”
In her book she writes that, more often than not she saw empty space on a wall where a tv once stood, inch-long greying roots on once-dyed hair and mobile phones so old that she recognised them from being a teenager.
“My research, as well as that of other academics, charities and frontline professionals showed that a major reason for people using food banks was the impact of welfare reform.
“Other reasons that brought people through the food bank doors were ill-health, bereavement, relationship breakdown, substantial caring responsibilities, precarious jobs, and redundancy,” said Kayleigh who is currently working on an ethnography of health inequalities in contrasting areas of Stockton over a four-year period.
In the town where there is an average of 17 year difference between the life expectancy of a man living in the town centre compared with in the suburbs fewer than five miles away.
“It’s a misconception that it’s easy to get a food parcel because it isn’t – people need a red voucher from a professional such as a social worker, school liaison officer or a health visitor. Evidence from the Trussell Trust is that, on average, people use food banks twice in a year.
“So they might skip meals, drink cups of tea and coffee with sugar to give them energy and shop at four or five different shops for the best deals which is incredibly difficult with children using public transport. People can find themselves quickly tipped over the edge,” Kayleigh explained.
The Trussell Trust
The Trussell Trust charity’s 424 foodbanks are run in partnership with churches and communities.
During the last year over 40,000 volunteers helped at foodbanks and the UK public donated 10,570 tonnes of food.
Trussell Trust foodbank use remains at record high with over one million three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in 2015/16.
While working as a volunteer Kayleigh asked many of the people if they would be willing to take part in her extensive research project and share their experiences. “I think often people don’t ask “how are you doing?” But when I did, they told me.
“The main reason I wanted to do the book was to allow the voices of people using the foodbank to be heard. A lot of the time the people coming to use the foodbank would say, “I wish the Government knew what my life was like,” and now they will.”
To tie in with the publication of Hunger Pains, a discussion about the critical issue is taking place at Parliament on June 29 where Kayleigh will be speaking about the critical issues raised in the book.
The event is being chaired by Guardian journalist Patrick Butler and the panel will include MP Emma Lewell-Buck, campaigner, columnist and author Jack Monroe, Director of Church Action on Poverty Niall Cooper, Director of Poverty Alliance Peter Kelly and Baroness Ruth Lister.
Kayleigh added: “Foodbanks have been normalised to the point that they are becoming acceptable but they need to remain shocking and outrageous. They do provide a lifeline but we should be outraged they are even necessary in the first place.
“How we express the collective shame that should be felt over the existence of emergency food aid will be key to the future of food banks in the UK.
To purchase Hunger Pains: Life inside Foodbank Britain (Policy Press 2016) by Kayleigh Garthwaite click here
For ticket information about the panel discussion based on Hunger Pains visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/panel-event-based-on-kayleigh-garthwaites-book-hunger-pains-tickets-25736486524
For details about the Trussell click here rust visit here
Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite can be followed on Twitter @KA_Garthwaite