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 said they expect the number of people in dire financial trouble to shoot up next year because of rising food and fuel bills, the coming National Insurance hike, and the recent cut to Universal Credit.
Food bank managers 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 match growing demand with extra supplies.
The Dad’s House food bank in London’s West Brompton area is currently helping 425 individuals or families a week, but expects the number to rise to 550 households 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 they have seen individual donations of produce fall in recent months, while the organisations which distribute surplus stock from the food industry continue to be hampered by supply problems.
Mr McGranaghan said he is not sure if Dad’s House can 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,” said Mr McGranaghan. “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 seen an increase in the need for help in recent weeks, as both inflation and October’s £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit hits 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 the 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 or families a week – but they expects 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.”
The Trinity Foodbank manager 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 – the national charity that distributes surplus stock to food banks and other charities across Britain – said the lack of hauliers and ongoing labour shortages in the food sector had hit deliveries into 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 to 2019, as need remains well above pre-pandemic levels.
Chief executive Emma Revie told The Independent that the network expects a “significant increase” in people asking for emergency help in 2022.
“It’s a worry there won’t be enough food to meet demand,” said the Trussell Trust chief. “But I’m heartened that people always seem to respond generously, because no-one wasn’t 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.”
The Trussell Trust food bank in Colchester currently provides enough meals for 1,300 people each month this year – but manager Michael Becketts expects that to go up to 1,600 people a month.
“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 food banks are under to support “an ever-increasing number of people” unable to afford food are “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 see around 1.9 million working families on Universal Credit gain an average £1,000 a year. But Resolution Foundation 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 Standard, helped raise over £10m for Britons struggling to access food during the pandemic.