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Issues » 2017/4 - ERIS Journal - Summer 2017 »

Shelley Briggs, Mark Foord

Food Banks and the Transformation of British Social Welfare


Since the mid-1970’s, the British social welfare system has undergone a process of radical transformation. There are seminal moments in this journey, most recently the 2015 election of a transformative Conservative administration, driven by a deep anti-state ideology which attempted to cut welfare, diminish the public realm and re-define Britain’s relationship with Europe. To fill the hiatus left by spending cuts, the development of voluntary (‘Big Society’) community initiatives was encouraged. The food bank movement provides an important exemplar of the nexus of state withdrawal, precariousness and voluntarism. In many parts of Britain, food banks have become the defacto welfare safety net, offering emergency assistance and personalised support, delivered by volunteers. As such, food banks provide insights into the future shape of British welfare provision. This paper maps the development, impact and scope of food banks in Britain; it argues support for voluntarism is driven by a desire to enact forms of welfare intervention based on conditionality and mistrust of cash based welfare. It concludes by arguing that whilst the Neo-liberal vision for food banks is embedded in an anti-welfare agenda, food banks have the potential to develop as discursive community spaces offering care, support and social action.


social welfare transformation, precariousness, food banks, voluntary action

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