The Independent Food Aid Network is calling on the government to reinstate the £20 universal credit increase. Image: Staffs Live/Flickr
Food banks are “running out of options” to support people and have warned the £20 government cut to universal credit could see them unable to offer food parcels altogether.
Food aid centres are already struggling to cope in the wake of Covid given the levels of poverty and have now been impacted by the supply chain crisis.
And staff and volunteers expect another sharp spike in demand in the coming weeks that could far exceed any seen during the pandemic so far.
It is a “real danger” that some food banks soon won’t be able to provide even small amounts of food as the cost of living crisis grows and food supplies dwindle, The Big Issue has heard.
“The buck cannot stop at the doors of food banks,” said Sabine Goodwin, coordinator for the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN). “Over the years some have said, what if we strike? But they absolutely don’t want to and wouldn’t do that.
“They wonder what the government would do if they weren’t there. It’s not fair for volunteers and food bank teams, who try their best at all times, to be put into that impossible situation.”
IFAN, which represents more than 500 independent food banks across the UK, wrote to the prime minister this week urging him to tackle the root causes of poverty. This can be done by strengthening the country’s welfare system and putting an end to low wages, the letter said, not relying on food aid charities to fill the gap.
The letter came the same week Conservative MP Peter Bottomley described politicians’ salary – worth £81,000 – as “really grim”, triggering a joke public fundraising campaign to help him out that actually diverted funds to food banks.
Low supplies mean a number of independent food banks – which often have fewer resources and less funding than larger projects – have this week been forced to reduce the size of the parcels they distribute, Goodwin said.
Some could be forced into the “unthinkable position” of not even being able to offer reduced parcels to people unable to afford the bare essentials, she added.
“This is never going to be resolved by food,” Goodwin said.
Food banks are also receiving fewer donations from the public compared to recent months, Goodwin added, and are operating with fewer and fewer volunteers. Those remaining are “exhausted”.
“People are going back to work. That moment of blitz spirit has passed,” she said. “Some food banks might be alright now but the system is so fragile, when the expected surge in demand comes they won’t be prepared.
“This impossible scenario cannot be imposed on charitable food aid providers when the solution is so clear,” she added.
She said ministers must reinstate the £20 per week to universal credit and working tax credits. The cut, amounting to a £1,040 annual loss for claimants, could push 500,000 people into poverty, anti-poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said.
IFAN also wants ministers to increase legacy benefits – claimed mostly by disabled people and which did not receive the same £20 increase during the pandemic – as well as ensure the “social security system is fit for purpose” and “fast track decent wages and job security for all”.
IFAN is working with dozens of local authorities to implement a “cash-first” approach to ending demand for food aid, signposting people struggling to afford food to sources of financial support.
This means distributing leaflets to food bank users as well as campaigning for jobs to pay the real living wage, and for food poverty to be tackled through increased incomes on a national scale.
A government spokesperson said: “The uplift to universal credit was always temporary. It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.
“Universal credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and it’s right that the government should focus on our plan for jobs, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”