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Social Justice

Donations are down and customers are up – food banks say they are at crisis point

Forget budgeting, food education and working more – people in poverty need adequate money, says food bank manager Charlotte White.

The head of a food bank in south London says people are struggling like never before as the cost of living crisis worsens.

Charlotte White, who runs Eastfield Food Bank in Wandsworth, told The Big Issue the team simply “can’t afford to provide people with the same amount of food as before”, because donations are dwindling, whilst the number of people in need is rising.

She said recent comments from MPs do not represent the reality of the situation. Tory Lee Anderson suggested people who use food banks do not know how to cook or manage their finances properly, whilst Rachel Maclean said families could “protect” themselves from the cost of living crisis by taking on more work.

White said: “Comments like these propagate the dangerous myth that people need food banks because of mismanagement of their own situation, rather than a failing, broken system.”

Her experience proves wrong Anderson’s comments that people using food banks don’t know how to cook or manage their finances, because cooking oil is an item which remains firmly on the list of available goods, as people use it so frequently.

She explained: “One guest, Jan, makes a vegetable curry every week from the fresh vegetables given out. Another guest, Nazish, often rings me before the Thursday session, to ask if anyone has happened to donate any herbs and spices.”

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The Independent Food Aid Network says 93 per cent of organisations are reporting an increase or a significant increase in the need for their services since the start of 2022.

It said said it is supporting a growing cohort of people who have not needed to use a food bank before, such as people who are struggling following the £20 cut to universal credit.

Items such as instant noodles, or no-cook items like corned beef and spam, also remain popular as people cannot afford gas or electric to cook.

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White added: “As guest Heidi says: ‘I have £1 left on the electric for the rest of the week. I need this to charge my girls’ tablets so they can do their school homework, I can’t put the oven on as well’ (The tablets are loaned to the family by the school).”

She said Maclean’s comments are equally as damaging the number of working people needing food bank support is “alarming”, and driven by low wages and uncertain hours.

White said: “Recently, a warehouse packer guest had all his promised hours cancelled for an entire week. Supplies hadn’t reached the warehouse in time so there was nothing to pack. For him and many others, the choice of “taking on more work” simply isn’t there. The prevalence of zero-hours contracts means that it’s difficult for guests to know what income will be coming in every week, let alone plan and budget.”

All the food budgeting, food education or change in work hours won’t make a difference.

“We’re at crisis point,” White said.

Similarly, Annie McCormack of IFAN member Broke Not Broken, Kinross said: “Independent food banks run by volunteers fill a gap left by an inadequate social security system and low wages. The drop in donations we’re seeing coupled with increase in usage shows exactly how unsustainable a crutch the
charitable food aid system really is. People need to be able to access adequate incomes whether through social security payments or their wages.”

IFAN is calling on the UK Government to urgently introduce cash first interventions to reduce
rapidly increasing poverty levels across the UK, and at the very least to uprate benefits in line with inflation.

Kate Brewster of IFAN member One Can Trust, Buckinghamshire said that she has seen the need for their services double with the cost-of-living crisis, and the cut to Universal Credit adding: “We’re seeing the highest sustained level of demand in our 10-year history.

“We’re supporting hundreds of people with heart-breaking stories, and we know that having to exist like this affects mental health for many. It’s an appalling state of affairs. Wages and benefits must be sufficient to afford the essentials.”

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