Food banks face turning hungry families away as demand soars in ‘bleak winter’

Exclusive: Charities say they may have to reduce packages – or even refuse people – if numbers keep rising

Adam Forrest
Saturday 01 January 2022 18:34
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<p>Food bank chiefs have warned of unsustainable pressure </p>

Food bank chiefs have warned of unsustainable pressure

Food banks fear they will be forced to to turn away hungry families during a “bleak” winter as they face soaring demand and supply shortages.

Charity bosses say they expect the number of people in dire financial trouble to shoot up this year because of rising food and fuel bills, the coming National Insurance hike and October’s cut to Universal Credit.

Food bank managers have told The Independent they may be forced to reduce packages – or even turn away hungry families – as they are uncertain they will be able to meet growing demand with extra supplies.

The Dad’s House food bank in London’s West Brompton area, which currently helps 425 individuals or families a week, expects the number to rise to 550 a week in the coming months.

“We usually see the impact of debt after Christmas, but we’re expecting things to be much worse because of the rising food and fuel bills,” said manager William McGranaghan. “The early months of next year are going to be really tough. We will struggle to meet the demand.”

Food banks said individual donations of produce have fallen in recent months, while organisations that distribute surplus stock from the food industry have been hampered by supply problems.

Mr McGranaghan said he was not sure whether Dad’s House could sustain an increase in numbers coming through the doors for long because the charity only has financial reserves to buy two to three months’ worth of food.

“It’s a dire situation,” he said. “It’s going to be a bleak winter ahead. We just don’t know the limits of what food banks can actually do. I fear we might have to tell people, ‘Sorry, we just don’t have any food’. Which we would hate to do.”

A mid-December survey carried out by the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) found 90 per cent of food banks have already experienced an increase in the need for help in recent weeks, as both inflation and October’s £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit hit home.

Some 30 per cent of independent food banks told IFAN they might not be able to support everyone asking for help if demand continues to increase.

The cost of living in the UK has risen by 5.1 per cent in the past 12 months – the highest rate in 10 years, according to official inflation figures published earlier this month.

As well as the soaring costs of fuel, clothing and food, changes to the energy price cap will allow suppliers to put up tariffs from April – the same month a 1.2 per cent National Insurance rise will hit lower earners.

Tina Harrison, who runs the Trinity Foodbank in Bury, said she expected rising living costs to push even more people into trouble next year. She and her team currently help 100 individuals and families a week, but they expect the number to rise to around 150.

“We’ve had generous donations that will get us through Christmas – but it’s going to be a very tough few months ahead,” she said. “We definitely expect the upward trend in demand to continue next year. We’re anticipating it will go up about 50 per cent because the picture looks so desperate.”

Ms Harrison added: “We’ll do our best, but I fear we’ll struggle to help everyone in the way we have. We might have to reduce the amount we give out. We’ll have to look at new ways to try to source more food to deal with this demand.”

FareShare, a national charity that distributes surplus stock to food banks and other charities across Britain, said the lack of hauliers and labour shortages in the food sector had hit deliveries to its warehouses.

“The winter period looks to be a time of enormous uncertainty for us,” said Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of FareShare. “We don’t know what the impact of any supply chain issues will be – but they could result in a significant drop in the amount of food we’ll be able to redistribute to frontline charities.”

The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest network of food banks, handed out an average of 5,100 parcels a day from April until September – an 11 per cent increase compared with 2019, as need remained well above pre-pandemic levels.

Chief executive Emma Revie told The Independent that the network expected a significant increase in people asking for emergency help this year.

“It’s a worry there won’t be enough food to meet demand,” she said. “But I’m heartened that people always seem to respond generously, because no one wants to see people go without.”

Ms Revie also urged the government to “look again at our welfare system”, adding: “If it’s not keeping people out of food banks, then government should be focusing urgent attention on strengthening the social security system.”

Michael Becketts, manager of the Trussell Trust food bank in Colchester, which currently provides enough meals for 1,300 people each month, expects that to go up to 1,600.

“The economic pressures look very much like they’re going to push more people into trouble,” he said. “We have to prepare for it – I have to plan to feed 20,000 people in 2022. My fear is it may be even more than that.”

Sabine Goodwin, co-ordinator of the IFAN network, said the pressure that food banks were under to support an ever-increasing number of people unable to afford food were immense.

She added: “It’s essential that the government increases social security payments so that they match the cost of living as urgently as possible. It’s also vital that the rising tide of in-work poverty is tackled through adequate wages and job security.”

The Felix Project said it was aiming to increase our supply to charities across London from over 30 million meals to nearly 40 million meals next year “in the face of huge demand”.

Shane Dorsett, director of operations at Felix, said: “We need as much help as we can get – right now we’re asking for volunteers to help us make use of the huge quantities of good food being kindly donated by our supply partners.”

The government said recent changes to the taper rate and work allowance should lead to around 1.9 million working families on Universal Credit gaining an average of £1,000 a year. But economic think tank the Resolution Foundation said 3.6 million families on Universal Credit would be worse off because of the end of the £20-a-week uplift.

A government spokesperson said: “We’re providing extensive support to those on the lowest incomes … Our £500m Household Support Fund is also giving more help to the most vulnerable with essential costs this winter, and councils have been given an extra £65m to support low-income households with rent arrears.”

The Independent’s Help the Hungry campaign, run in partnership with the Evening Standardhelped raise over £10m for Britons struggling to access food during the pandemic.

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