Food banks are struggling to cope with the rising costs of essentials. Image: Unsplash
Food banks are being forced to cut staple items from their parcels because of the soaring costs of groceries.
New government statistics show the prices of basics such as pasta, tea and vegetable oil have soared at rates far higher than inflation. As the cheapest items become more expensive, millions cannot afford the basics, and low-income households are the hardest hit.
Soaring costs mean people are less likely to donate to food banks, and volunteers are having to purchase food themselves. They are dipping into financial reserves to make up for dramatic falls in donations, but those funds aren’t stretching nearly as far as they once did.
Around 9.7 million adults could not afford food or access it in September, according to the Food Foundation. A further four million children were also impacted.
The poorest families often turn to food banks for help but, with demand soaring and donations falling, organisations are having to cut back on the items they give out. “This is extremely tough and doesn’t feel sustainable,” one food bank manager told The Big Issue.
Vegetable oil has seen the biggest rise over the last year, from £1.56 in September 2021 to £2.58 this year. That’s an increase of 65 per cent. Pasta, meanwhile, saw prices soar by 60 per cent – from 38p to 61p.
At Earlsfield Foodbank in London, oil is one of the items set to be slashed. It’s normally one of the most sought-after items, according to manager Charlotte White, though less people are cooking on the hob now given the energy bills crisis.
The food bank, White says, is still aiming to provide three or four days’ worth of food for guests. But the contents of the parcels has had to change.
“This is getting more and more difficult to sustain, with our guest numbers going up and donations down,” she said. “We’re having to cut items again and also limit the frequency with which we give out certain items.”
They only give out washing up liquid once a month and they have had to limit other items like instant mash potato, which has rocketed in price. “This is a real shame as items like this are in demand as they only require a kettle to be made up,” White added. “Many guests are avoiding using ovens and hobs.”
According to the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN), nearly 90 per cent of organisations have seen demand rise since April. That’s on top of unprecedented increases after the cut to universal credit in October 2021.
One in five organisations have needed to reduce the size of their food parcels, while more than half have needed to dip into reserves to pay for supplies.
Sabine Goodwin, IFAN coordinator, said: “Soaring food prices are increasing the financial pressures on households across the UK as well as the challenges faced by struggling food aid providers. Independent food banks are having to purchase food, often dipping into financial reserves, to make up for dramatic falls in donations.”
IFAN is calling for “cash first interventions” such as increasing benefits in line with inflation. “People’s incomes must be increased and the pressure on unsustainable charitable food aid providers reduced,” Goodwin added.
When he was chancellor, Rishi Sunak had promised to raise benefits in line with inflation from April. If he does not go ahead with this, it would mean a cut to benefits in real terms.