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  • Author or Editor: Hannah Lambie-Mumford x
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The rise of food charity

Drawing on empirical research with the UK’s two largest charitable food organisations, this book explores the prolific rise of food charity over the last 15 years and its implications for overcoming food insecurity.

As the welfare state withdraws, leaving food banks to protect the most vulnerable, the author questions the sustainability of this system and asks where responsibility lies - in practice and in theory - for ensuring everyone can realise their human right to food.

The book argues that effective, policy-driven solutions require a clear rights-based framework, which enables a range of actors including the state, charities and the food industry to work together towards, and be held accountable for, the progressive realisation of the right to food for all in the UK.

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As the demand for food banks and other emergency food charities continues to rise across the continent, this is the first systematic Europe-wide study of the roots and consequences of this urgent phenomenon.

Leading researchers provide case studies from the UK, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain, each considering the history and driving political and social forces behind the rise of food charity, and the influence of changing welfare states. They build into a rich comparative study that delivers valuable evidence for anyone with an academic or professional interest in related issues including social policy, exclusion, poverty and justice.

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Chapter 4 discusses how socially acceptable emergency food provision is as a means of food acquisition. This acceptability is explored through the notion of ‘otherness’ and questions around the nature of emergency food as an ‘other’ system and whether it is experienced as such by recipients. This chapter argues that emergency food provision can be said to form an identifiably other system given the ways in which it lacks key features of shopping in the commercial market (the socially accepted form of food acquisition in the UK today). Whilst these systems and the food distributed through them do still hold moral and market-based aspects of value, ultimately, emergency food systems are not only identifiably other but experientially so as well. Such systems are experienced as ‘other’ by those that have to turn to them and the experience of this ‘other’ system as exclusionary is highly problematic.

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Chapter 5 addresses how sustainable emergency food initiatives are, in relation to the sustainability of both the availability of food to emergency food providers and the accessibility of that food to potential recipients. This chapter first of all explores the agency of emergency food providers to make food available and finds that they are constrained in significant ways by the structure of the food industry. The agency of potential emergency food recipients is also highly constrained, both in terms of accessing the projects and once within them. The sustainability of emergency food provision in terms of the availability of food through these systems and access to that food by people in need therefore appears to be particularly vulnerable. Emergency food providers and their recipients are constrained by the structures in which they operate (the food system and emergency food systems) and their ability to access the amount of food they require is ultimately determined by these structures.

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Chapter 6 looks at where charitable emergency food provision fits into responsibilities to respect, protect and fulfil the human right to food. It employs a theory of care ethics to explore the nature of need for emergency food provision and how providers define success within these systems. Whilst need and success are often spoken of in immediate terms (crisis and meeting immediate need) this in fact belies the more nuanced appreciation organisations have for the complex circumstances which underpin need for emergency food and how they understand the impact of their projects on recipients’ lives. The chapter goes on to discuss the ways in which emergency food providers are assuming responsibility for caring for the hungry with mixed feelings. It places these findings within the context of care ethics approaches which see care as structural and public and discusses how these endeavours could be interpreted as privatised care, fitting within wider neo-liberal shifts. The chapter concludes that in line with care ethics approaches, the right to food framework indicates that there might be a particular role for emergency food providers, in relation to political engagement and utilising the power of their collective voice.

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Chapter 7 looks at the role of the state and examines the changing nature of the UK welfare state and the impact these changes are having on the need for and shape of emergency food provision. The chapter argues that social security and on-going reforms to it are impacting on need for emergency food in two key ways: through changes to the levels of entitlement; and problematic administrative processes. Furthermore, the consequences of welfare reforms are impacting on the nature of these systems. As the level of need is driven up, projects are re-considering their operations, contemplating logistics and means of protecting projects’ access to food. At a local level, particular reforms appear to be embedding local welfare systems which increasingly incorporate local food projects.The question of the state as duty bearer is discussed. By right to food standards the welfare state can be considered a vital aspect to both fulfilling and protecting people’s right; but the state’s role is much broader, encompassing action in relation to labour markets, commercial food markets and other spheres where it could exercise influence to respect and protect people’s human right.

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Chapter 8 focuses on the consequences of the rise of emergency food provision for the progressive realisation of the human right to food in the UK. The chapter discusses the opportunities that the right to food approach provides and its appropriateness in the current context and sets out three key conclusions. The first is that there is a need to challenge minimalist approaches to the definition of food insecurity, ways in which responses are framed and solutions understood. The second conclusion relates to the importance of rights-based policies to move us forward from the current situation, where the findings suggest there is an increasing reliance on emergency food provision in the context of a retrenched welfare state. The third conclusion relates to the important social and political role emergency food charities could have in the realisation of the right to food. The conclusion chapter ends with recommendations for a range of stakeholders including emergency food charities, policy makers, NGOs, the food industry, communities and individuals and researchers.

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This chapter presents a case for rethinking hunger (conceptualised here as ‘food poverty’) in the current welfare state and the role social policy analysis and research could play. The chapter explores what food poverty is in the UK and how it has changed since the financial crisis of the mid-2000s, presenting evidence which indicates that the situation has worsened in recent years as a result of incomes lagging behind rises in costs of living. In the face of rising food poverty, the chapter argues that the historic and on-going lack of policy ownership of food poverty is an urgent concern. The response of food banks to rising levels of food poverty is discussed along with the ways in which this non-state response is a consequence of a historical trajectory of welfare diversification and retrenchment in the UK. The chapter ends by looking at progressive ways forward in the face of rising food poverty and charity responses with an emphasis on human-rights based approaches.

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Chapter 2 discusses in more detail the rise of food charity in the United Kingdom. It provides international, historical and policy context to this rise as well as an exploration of current knowledge relating to household food insecurity in the UK.

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Chapter 3 sets out the key theories with which the book engages: food insecurity and the human right to food. Following on from a conceptualisation and definition of food insecurity, the right to food is introduced. Emphasis is placed on normative element of ‘adequacy and sustainability of food availability and access’ and on the state’s obligation to ‘respect, protect and fulfil the right to food’. Theories of ‘othering’ and ‘agency’ are employed to assess the social acceptability of emergency food systems as a means of acquiring food, and the power of providers to make sufficient food available through these systems and of potential recipients to access it. Theories of ‘care’ and ‘social protection’ are employed to explore the ways in which charitable providers are in practice taking responsibility for the duty to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food and how shifts in welfare policy are affecting need for this provision.

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