Activism

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."

food bank

Ray Barron-Woolford of We Care food bank. Image: Supplied

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.”

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.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
'We are here and we exist': Inside the neighbourhood offering sanctuary to queer Russians and Ukrainians
Pride

'We are here and we exist': Inside the neighbourhood offering sanctuary to queer Russians and Ukrainians

Actor Liz Carr says it hurts to hear her younger self 'wanted to die'
Liz Carr
Disability rights

Actor Liz Carr says it hurts to hear her younger self 'wanted to die'

Feeling like change in the UK isn't possible? Let these 28 purposeful campaigns prove otherwise
Activism

Feeling like change in the UK isn't possible? Let these 28 purposeful campaigns prove otherwise

Back to Black actor Eddie Marsan: 'There aren't any no-go areas in Tower Hamlets'
London

Back to Black actor Eddie Marsan: 'There aren't any no-go areas in Tower Hamlets'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know