Thousands of food bank volunteers will warn Liz Truss on Monday that they are having to ration provisions, as their services have become “overstretched and exhausted” because of an influx of people needing their help.
In a sign of a continuing cost of living crisis that was building even before the economic crisis that followed the government’s mini-budget, a letter signed by more than 3,000 food bank workers will be delivered to Downing Street.
It includes a warning that those who used to donate to food banks are now seeking their help, while some services are facing “breaking point” even as they are braced for increasing demand in the coming months.
“People who were already unable to afford food are being hit the hardest by relentless rises in energy, food and travel costs,” states the letter compiled by the Trussell Trust, Feeding Britain and the Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan).
“Every day we meet people who are skipping meals so they can feed their children and turning off their cooker or fridge so they can cover other essential costs. People who used to donate to food banks are now needing to seek our support. And the next 12 months look bleaker still.
“Many of our teams are struggling to cope as demand for our support outstrips our food and financial donations and we are forced to make difficult decisions about how we operate. We are overstretched and exhausted. Many of our organisations are at breaking point.”
They cite the decision to cut universal credit in October last year as one of the drivers of increasing need, with the country now entering a period of even higher inflation. They state that demand has now reached “unprecedented levels”.
The letter tells Truss: “We call on you to take urgent action to end the need for charitable food aid by ensuring everyone has enough income, from work and social security, to buy the essentials.”
It comes amid new evidence of the increasingly perilous state of some food banks as demand increases. More than nine in 10 outlets have seen demand rise further since July 2022, according to an Ifan survey. Supply issues mean that almost a quarter have reduced the size of their food parcels.
As winter approaches, half of the organisations that responded to the survey said they may not be able to support everyone who needs help, or may have to reduce the size of their parcels to meet increasing demand.
Many food banks are now struggling to source adequate supplies and have seen significant falls in food and financial donations, with many dipping into their reserves. Volunteers also reported needing to take on more paid work or being unable to run their cars for food deliveries.
Charlotte White, from Earlsfield Foodbank, said: “Every week the numbers go up, the queue starts earlier in the morning and the phone never stops ringing with new referrals. And it’s getting harder to service the rising number of guests. Donations are down. We must work so much harder to get the level needed now for our weekly numbers.”
Annie McCormack, from Broke Not Broken in Perth and Kinross, said: “We are worried not only about our clients but also for our own volunteers and staff. They are witness to so much trauma and desperation and are feeling the impact of their critical work. I am concerned that the third sector as a whole, which has filled all these gaps for so long, is starting to crumble under the strain.”
Sue Wood, from Hope Church Hounslow, added: “As we go into the winter, we are anticipating that our numbers will increase significantly and that we won’t be able to sustain the level of help we can now offer.”
Food banks are calling on Truss to confirm that she will increase benefits in line with inflation, despite Whitehall claims that ministers could raise them at a lower rate. A revolt among Tory MPs now looks set to ensure benefits rise to meet inflation.
Birmingham city council has already announced that it is to buy provisions for local food banks as stocks run down. The move is part of a £5m cost of living support package.
A DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to looking after the most vulnerable, which is why we’ve delivered at least £1,200 of support to families this winter while also saving households an average of £1,000 a year through our energy price guarantee. As part of our £37bn support package, we are enabling people on universal credit to keep £1,000 more of what they earn, providing all households with £400 towards energy costs and supporting vulnerable families in England through the household support fund – which was boosted by £500m – to help pay for essentials.”