Social Justice

Four out of five people getting loans from supermarket Iceland to cover food costs are women

Iceland Food Club offers interest-free loans to the supermarket’s customers to help them with the cost of living crisis.

Iceland Food Club

Mother-of-two Imogen joined the Iceland Food Club after seeing a Facebook advert and the scheme helped her when she was made redundant. Image: Supplied

More than 80 per cent of the members of an ethical lending scheme set up to help Iceland customers cover rising food costs due to the cost of living crisis are women, new figures show.

The Iceland Food Club rolled out nationally in August last year offering loans between £25 and £100 to help families struggling to stave off hunger.

More than 24,000 households around the UK have joined the scheme, according to ethical lender Fair For You, with 83 per cent of all the members across the UK identifying as female.

Nearly half of all Iceland Food Club members are aged between 30 and 40 years of age with the majority living in the north-west and north-east of England.

Simon Dukes, the chief executive of Fair For You, said: “The fact that the majority of Iceland Food Club members are female and aged 25-45 reflects the scheme’s mission of preventing school holiday food poverty, and its ongoing growth shows the huge appetite nationally for this sort of credit.

“While that is our core aim, we do also have members who are grandparents or do not have children, and applications are welcome regardless of your stage in life, gender or family situation.

“Fair for You has nearly a decade of experience in understanding the finances of families on lower incomes, and we are able to accept applications from many of those who struggle to access credit elsewhere.”

Iceland Food Club
The interest-free loans earned praise from MPs for offering an alternative to food banks and high-cost credit. Image: Iceland

The Iceland Food Club is primarily designed to help low-income families with spikes in food bills during school holidays.

Each customer can take out six interest-free loans paid on to a preloaded card in time periods around the school holidays after their initial loan.

Imogen, 31, from Leeds, has been a member of the Iceland Food Club since its pilot study phase after seeing a Facebook advert for the scheme.

She has since continued to use the loans to ensure she has cash to cover food for daughters her two daughters during the summer holidays.

The scheme proved particularly valuable when the single mum, who works part-time as a teaching assistant in adult education, was made redundant at the start of last summer.

“I got made redundant last July so I had to go through the school holidays with no wage until I started work again in September,” Imogen told The Big Issue.

Imogen Iceland Food Club
Imogen told The Big Issue the Iceland Food Club stopped her from needing to ask family for financial help or getting trapped in the “vicious cycle” of high-cost credit. Image: Supplied

“It was a worrying time especially with the kids being off school and you’ve got to get school uniforms and everything else for the next term as well. There was a lot of pressure on so this just helps alleviate some of that pressure.”

Imogen has continued to use the scheme since then, taking loans out during summer holidays then paying back £10 a week.

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It has prevented her having to turn to high-cost credit.

Around one million people in England are in debt to illegal money lenders with many people failing to seek help due to the fear of reprisals, think tank the Centre for Social Justice reported this week.

“I’d certainly recommend it,” she said. “Some people might even have considered getting those payday loans to bridge the gap and that’s just opening yourself up to a vicious cycle then because you’re going to pay all that interest.

“If it’s something that is as small as needing a food shop to get you through the school holidays, it stops people getting into unmanageable debt.”

Kirsty, a 32-year-old mum of three from Yorkshire, has also benefited from the access to extra cash.

Having access to regular loans across the year has helped Kirsty to ensure her two daughters aged 10 and five and her 18-month-old son don’t miss out on food or activities and days out in the school holidays.

Kirsty told The Big Issue she had taken five loans across the year from the Iceland scheme and was paying back £40 monthly – in line with the £10 a week repayments Fair For You recommends.

The experience has helped her to budget her cash and she is now so confident with her finances that she was able to take out a separate loan from the ethical lender to cover a cot for her young son.

Kirsty said: “I was able to manage but it meant we couldn’t do as many fun things as we used to but now I’ve got that money I can take them out on activities and things like that.

“When they’re off school I’m not worrying about where their next meal is coming from because I know I’ve got that there for my food shopping.”

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Rising food costs and wider inflation are starting to hit families like Kirsty’s hard, but she told The Big Issue that having the option of the loan from Iceland has helped her to get her finances in order and to build her money management skills.

“I’m definitely starting to feel it [the cost of living crisis],” added Kirsty. “I won’t say I have to use food banks but once I’ve paid for my bills and my food shopping when I get paid, there’s nothing left for the month and I’m struggling to get the next shop.

“We just managed until the school holidays and then when they come I know that I’m going to have at least a week where I’m alright again.”

“It’s got me in a routine with everything else. I write down everything that I owe and what I’ve got spare and what that money can be used for. I make sure I’ve got money to cover me for the month. It’s just got me a lot more organised with money and paying all the rest of my bills.” 

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Fair For You, which has been supported by Big Issue Invest, and Iceland recently impressed the Trussell Trust and MPs with the scheme as part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ending the Need for Food Banks.

The APPG inquiry, which looked into whether it was more effective to give cash or food to help households facing food insecurity, said the Iceland scheme “can help prevent people needing to turn to loan sharks or high-interest loan companies, which could make a bad situation turn worse”.

To apply for the Iceland Food Club scheme, head here. For more information on how to find a credit union or ethical lender head to FindYourCreditUnion.co.uk or FindingFinance.org.uk

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