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Huge energy bill hike leaves one of Britain’s biggest food banks facing closure by Christmas

“The government is presuming people can get help from the food banks. We are all on the verge of collapse because we have got no money.”

A food bank serving 3,000 people is facing closure by Christmas, as soaring energy bills leave it struggling to cover costs.

We Care Food Bank in south London, which says it is the largest in Britain, says costs including £500 monthly charges to run its fridges are leaving it on the brink of bankruptcy.

Its founder, Ray Barron-Woolford, warns that independent food banks all over the country are making the same choices – and that the country’s presumed safety net is on the verge of collapse.

“We will barely get to Christmas, but we won’t survive beyond that because you can’t get funding to run your fridges,” he told the Big Issue.

“The people we reach are those right at the very bottom, who fall off the scale. All they have is the food banks. If we all go, what the hell is going to be there to pick up the pieces?

“There are no community centres, there are no support structures. There is going to be no front line if they do not support the food banks.”

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It is not a question of donations for Barron-Woolford. Indeed, some coming to the food bank are refusing to take fresh vegetables as soaring energy bills mean they can’t afford to cook it, and are asking for soap as they can’t afford to run their washing machines.

He is hearing stories of people putting their safety at risk by using wood in their sinks as makeshift cookers, or cooking in communal hallways with plugs meant for cleaners.

Instead, allocation of funding is a big problem, with Woolford-Barron saying We Care misses out on funding because of arcane rules. He called for supermarkets, too, to increase their donations to smaller food banks.

“What is so frustrating is that the government is presuming people can get help from the food banks. We are all on the verge of collapse because we have got no money,” he said.

“We cannot keep feeding thousands on fresh air and volunteers, it’s exhausting.“

“Today we have no tools left in the box to offer solutions and options to huge numbers pouring through our doors in fear and terror.”

Having run with a surplus for the past two years, We Care will have to decide by October whether to serve notice for December.

It is attempting to raise £25,000 to cover a year’s worth of running costs. We Care’s struggles mirror those of independent food banks across the country, with others likely to fall into peril as energy bills rise, said Sabine Goodwin, coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network.

“Independent food banks are being stretched too far by increasing demand, reduced donations and spiralling running costs,” Goodwin said.

“The government must increase social security payments and ensure people earn adequate wages so that the rising cost of living is affordable. Food banks and their volunteers cannot be expected to alleviate the worsening poverty crisis and the reality is some are likely not to be in a position to do so either.”

The Big Issue has teamed up with Gordon Brown as the former prime minister calls on the government to take urgent action to prevent a “poverty time bomb” going off in October.

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