Dr David Beck, Food Poverty Expert from Bangor University School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences;
The acknowledge rise of food insecurity is understood to be associated with the rise of neoliberal policies in the name of ‘austerity politics’. Commensurate with this marked rise in food insecurity has been a rise in people experiencing food poverty, making the vulnerable less secure in their food. In an attempt to remedy this situation, well-meaning charitable organisations have flourished, in what is considered to be the most virtuous example of ‘The Big Society’, a deliberate political policy encouraging the retrenchment of social security and allowing community groups to fill this welfare gap.
Food banks are a direct example of this ‘Big Society’ principle at large. They have arisen as numbers of food insecure people have been pushed towards them due to retrenched levels of welfare, and have therefore, begun to act as a residual welfare safety-net. The people using food banks have explained to me that having to resort to a food bank is equivalent to having to beg for food. There is a serious stigma associated with food bank use and having to resort to this as a means of feeding themselves and their families.
This stigma is not just felt within the food banks but is also an experience which is spread across social welfare and civil society organisations who have also found themselves having to take on this new role of gatekeeper to food. Having to demonstrate your poverty to an organisation who holds the referral letters to food banks has also been understood through my research as being a terribly stigmatising situation. This is especially so where in places like North Wales, family ties and close-nit communities are still visible.
For those involved in providing this access, this has resulted in organisations having to devise their own level of moral judgement over who they feel deserves access to free food. This has been a cause of contestation, as some people have differential levels of understanding as to the drivers of poverty, and has, rightly, placed people in difficult decision-making situations. The desire to help is there, however, in the face of public scrutiny, the ability help everyone, deserving or otherwise is sometimes a difficult one to make, especially so given that donations to food banks are typically made by the very same public.
Within my organisation, my teaching and writing, I aim to highlight this deserving and undeserving narrative, and how these are driven by choice structural reasons associated with neoliberal policies of national government.