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Rise of the foodbank

Ian Purcell, project manager  at Cardiff Foodbank

Ian Purcell, project manager at Cardiff Foodbank (Photo: cardiff.foodbank)

A national scandal is unfolding, and growing, in the world’s seventh largest economy.

A country with riches and levels of wealth which so greatly surpass the conditions of humanity’s other half.

Thirteen million people live below the poverty line in the UK. That’s roughly 1 in 4 in a nation with a GDP of £1.5 trillion and levels of wealth that would embarrass most other countries.

The cream of this prosperity is embodied in the 18,000 people earning over £1 million a year. If you could ask to be born anywhere, you could do far worse than the UK.

Yet, growing numbers of people in this country are mired within such hardship that a network of over 400 Food Banks have sprung up in all corners to come to their desperate need.

We have all seen the familiar scenes of airborne aid parcels being floated to the grounds of desert lands to people we wouldn’t recognise. The same thing is happening here in principle.

Ian Purcell, project manager at Cardiff Foodbank said his operation opened up in April 2009, the forty-ninth of its kind here in the UK. Today the number stands at 415 with a few more opening up each week.

 The Great Recession laid waste to the boom years and the false prosperity we thought wouldn’t cease was soon revealed to be built on a sinking foundation of debt. Shrinking wage packets were masked by the fast-flowing tap of cheap credit. The abrupt end of these times hammered home quite a different reality for some.

“The squeeze on incomes and the benefit cuts such as the bedroom tax are partly to blame.”

The team talk to shadow chancellor Ed Balls

The team talk to shadow chancellor Ed Balls (Photo: cardiff.foodbank)

“The vast majority of cases are referred here due to benefit sanctions and delays in payments often tipping people over the edge.” said Ian, who is in his fifth year at Cardiff Foodbank.

People are referred to a food bank via social services, doctors, or even job centre staff. A voucher then provides a three to five day package of nutritionally-balanced food to tide people over. There are some 800 monthly users of Ian’s food bank, a number which is rising as economical reality clamps. Some recipients hand certain items back to staff as they can’t afford to heat them up.

Cardiff’s four centres not only provide assistance to the unemployed, the working-poor are also accessing these services in increasing numbers as prices continue to outstrip wages for the 46th month in a row.

The Great Recession may be parting way to an economy gathering pace as the fastest of any major nation, and we will hear the good times are rolling back. But, if we cannot look after our most vulnerable members of society, just what are doing wrong?

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