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Faced with extreme poverty in England, the development of food banks

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With its Norman steeple and churchyard, St Dunstan’s Anglican Church contrasts with the rest of the neighborhood – entire streets lined with social housing. We are in Tower Hamlets, one of London’s most contrasting boroughs: to the south, in the new financial center of Canary Wharf, and to the west, on the City side, billions of pounds are handled daily.

But, in the heart of what was once called the East End, the docklands, an ancestral place of migration, the poverty rate is among the highest in the United Kingdom: 39% of the inhabitants are considered poor, c ie with incomes below 60% of the country’s median income, which was 2,560 pounds sterling (2,950 euros) per month in April.

This autumn Friday is the day of the food bank, the “food bank”, in St Dunstan. A span of the church is completely cluttered with food, six volunteers are busy. “Three family baskets, two individual baskets with meat! », announces Sarah Smith, the employee in charge of the bank. Register in hand, she lists the first names of the beneficiaries: Aisha, Asma, Shifaa… All parade in a continuous flow.

Less than 8,500 euros per year

Most are British mums of Bangladeshi descent, like a third of the population of Tower Hamlets. They confide that only their husbands work and that they have to take care of the children, because looking after them would be too expensive, public aid only being valid for children aged 3 and 4 years old. Hence the need to collect free baskets.

“Many of those who come look upset, stressed. Tensions rise with fear of not being able to pay the bills”, says Gregory Allen, one of the volunteers, a young retiree who has worked for the City for a long time. Alison Jones, another regular at the place, responsible for relations with parents at the nearby Marion-Richardson primary school, brought the leftovers from a parent-teacher breakfast.

Slow cookers available for hire at the charity home in Hartlepool, UK, November 22, 2022.

In his establishment, almost 40% of the children are entitled to free school meals (free hot meals at school), because they live in households earning less than 7,400 annual pounds (8,500 euros), the eligibility ceiling. Impossible to live decently with so little in London. Even in Tower Hamlets, where renting a two-room apartment costs no less than 2,000 pounds (2,300 euros) per month.

Weakened by ten years of austerity

When Sarah Smith launched her “bank” in 2017, she first saw single men coming. Then came the families. Its register now has 560 names. The needs are such that this gentle and patient woman, herself from the neighborhood, is worried about a drop in donations. “People were generous during the Covid epidemic, but they too are affected by the crisis. Sometimes you can’t give for more than one or two meals. »

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