In 2018/19 the Exeter Food Bank provided over 6800 food parcels (or some 78000 kg of non-perishable food), over 2000 of which went to children. That is an average of over 130 parcels a week. Nationally over 1.6 million parcels were given out last year. But unfortunately demand for the service is increasing. The demand in 2018 was 23% higher than the previous year. And in the first three months of this year the run rate of food bank parcels given out has risen by another 31%.
Much of the rising demand for parcels appears to have been caused by the introduction of the Universal Credit scheme and the requirement for those moving on to it to have their benefit payments held back for 6 weeks. While, in response to criticism the government did reduce the 6 week wait to 5 weeks. that is still too long for those without any savings to survive without any income, and so the demand for food banks continues to rise.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that many of those forced to use food banks are honest, hard-working people doing their best to get by, but are doing low paid jobs that do not pay enough on their own to give a tolerable standard of living. Yet that delay before the receipt of benefits is a built-in feature of the new system despite the hardship it causes. Quite how this state of affairs is allowed to persist in the 21st century in a country which has the sixth largest economy in the world is difficult to fathom.
One might be forgiven for thinking that this is unacceptable in what is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Yet it is difficult to see conditions improving materially soon to the point that food banks will no longer be needed.
Unfortunately, Mark's stated ambition of putting himself out of work appears unlikely to be realised any time soon.