At the Tower Hamlets Food Bank in East London, staff make up bags of groceries for the dozens of people who attend the center daily because they can’t afford to feed themselves. The food bank is just a few minutes away from the wealth of London’s Canary Wharf financial hub, yet Tower Hamlets is one of the poorest boroughs in Britain.
Those who use the food bank are referred by their doctor or local social services department. One man – unwilling to give his name - said he’d recently lost his job, and that he didn’t want to be at the food bank.
“I just never thought I would end up here,” he said.
In the last year alone, there’s been a 160 percent increase in people using food banks, according to the Trussell Trust, a Christian charity that runs almost 40 percent of the UK’s food banks.
Amy Kimbangi, project coordinator at the Tower Hamlets food bank, says it now feeds about 200 people a month. She rejects accusations in some newspapers here that some who go there are just freeloaders abusing the system.
“The majority of people who come here do not want to be at the food bank," she says. "People who come here feel ashamed, feel embarrassed.”
She says a system is in place to ensure that the people helped are those who really need it.
Some say the surge in poverty and the resultant increase in the numbers of people using food banks is the result of sweeping government cuts in welfare benefits. They say people shouldn’t have to rely on food banks in a relatively rich country.
Others disagree. John O’Connell of the Taxpayers Alliance, a campaign group that backs the government cuts, say the greater use of food banks is a good thing.
“The answer isn’t always government hand-outs. It’s endemic of the growth of the benefits system which engenders a culture of dependency in the UK.”
“The government,” O’Connell says, “can’t take care of everyone.”