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Food banks report drop in donations despite fearing busiest Christmas yet

Organisations warn of increase in demand amid rising living costs and continued pandemic hardship

Andy Gregory
Friday 17 December 2021 19:52 GMT
Many food banks are bracing for unprecedented demand over the festive period
Many food banks are bracing for unprecedented demand over the festive period (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty)

Food banks across the country have warned they are experiencing a drop in donations despite bracing for what many fear will be their busiest Christmas to date.

As rising inflation and energy costs, the removal of the universal credit uplift, and the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic tightens the squeeze on household budgets, these increasingly vital community lifelines are also feeling the strain, The Independent has been told.

In one new poll of 600 food banks and community causes, conducted by the donation platform Neighbourly, nearly 79 per cent reported witnessing a drop in donations in recent months.

This is despite more than nine in 10 of those surveyed expecting that more people than ever will need their support this Christmas, with an average forecast of a 40 per cent increase in demand over the next three months.

The Trussell Trust, which supports a network of more than 1,300 food bank centres mostly reliant upon public donations, also said that while its network was currently well-supported and stock levels were varied, it was aware that “some food banks across the UK are seeing a decrease in donation levels and shortages of certain items”.

“Food banks in our network have been overwhelmed by the public’s generous support over the pandemic, but demand this winter is set to increase and the volume of food, toiletries, and household items needed at some food banks is also set to increase,” Rachel Macklin, head of England and Wales at the Trussell Trust told The Independent.

“Looking ahead, we are encouraging food banks in our network to hold additional stock where possible in preparation for any sharp increases in demand as a result of the cut to universal credit, end of furlough and rising energy prices.”

While the charity’s most recent figures showed that an average of more than 5,100 emergency food parcels were provided for people every day between April until September, it expects this figure to exceed 7,000 this month.

Separately, the Independent Food Aid Network, whose membership includes more than 500 independent food banks, warned on Friday that more than 90 per cent of its members had reported a rise in need over the past six weeks.

With around a third of members reporting that there were fewer surplus food items available or that donations had fallen, the network told the Press Association news agency that the “tsunami of need” providers are experiencing “is a public health risk for all concerned”.

“Independent food banks are reporting significant increases in need for their services across the UK particularly since the cut to universal credit,” the network’s coordinator Sabine Goodwin told The Independent.

“We're also hearing about a drop in donations and that people who might have donated to food banks in the past are now having to resort to using them.”

Pointing to new research from the Living Wage Foundation which suggested that more than two in five of all supermarket employees – some 366,000 in total – earn below the living wage, with women and ethnic minorities disproportionately affected, Ms Goodwin urged that income-based solutions were needed to tackle food insecurity in the UK.

“The answer is not to provide yet more food parcels to fill the gap but for the government and employers, including supermarkets, to ensure people can afford basic essentials such as food and heating through adequate social security payments and wages. A cash first approach is essential to ending the need for food parcels and donations alike,” Ms Goodwin said.

The warnings come in a week in which the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that inflation had risen to a decade-high of 5.1 per cent – higher than economists had forecast and more than double the UK’s target of 2 per cent.

Noting that the surge in inflation had been “driven by the rising cost of food and fuel”, Jack Leslie, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation think-tank, said: “It’s too early to say how much affect the Omicron wave will have on inflation – and the extent to which falling demand will be offset by supply chain disruption.

“But early 2022 is likely to marked by acute economic pain for some parts of the economy – notably hospitality – alongside a nationwide living standards squeeze.”

The following day, the Bank of England chose to increase interest rates for the first time since the start of the pandemic in an attempt to tame inflation, but City analysts remained sceptical of whether this would be the case.

“Even with the action taken today, households should expect their costs to continue to rise for some time,” said Ed Monk, associate director at Fidelity International, adding: “A rise in UK borrowing costs won’t ease up clogged supply chains or lower shipping costs.”

And analysis by the anti-poverty Joseph Rowntree Foundation warned that, if inflation remains as high as 5.1 per cent by April, the gap between benefit uprating and the projected cost of living means that some 200,000 people will be “pulled into deep poverty”.

“This analysis begs the question of how benefits should be uprated, but perhaps more fundamentally it begs a question about the basic ability of our social security system to ensure people can meet their essential needs,” said the charity’s deputy director of policy and partnerships, Katie Schmuecker.

“Our social security system must urgently be strengthened to ensure that, at a minimum, it enables people to meet their basic needs and live with dignity,” she added. “In a country like ours that should never be in doubt.”

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