The energy crisis, plummeting donations and skyrocketing demand are brewing a “perfect storm” for food banks this winter as the cost of living crisis continues to bite Britain. The Prime Minister may have unveiled a £60billion bailout package that will help limit the damage to households and businesses from soaring costs, but many remain fearful of a rough winter.
While a six-month cap was announced for businesses, with the Government pledging that “the most vulnerable” like “pubs, like shops, continue to be supported after that”, for many it has come too late.
And prices may have eased since record highs were reached, but they are still far higher than when the crisis began, putting an enormous strain on struggling businesses. Several have also been forced to close as a result of the energy crisis already.
One food bank, the We Care Food Bank in south London, warned that running costs including £500 monthly charges to run its fridges were pushing it to the brink of bankruptcy.
Ray Barron-Woolford, its founder, told the Big Issue last month that the food bank will “barely get to Christmas, but we won’t survive beyond that because you can’t get funding to run your fridges”.
And because several food banks have had to shut their doors as they struggled to cope with soaring energy costs, this is now putting a heavier strain on those that have remained open.
One of those food banks under extra strain is the Living Well food bank in south-east London. Worryingly, donations to the food bank have also plummeted at the same time. This has meant the group has to dig deeper into its own pockets to keep the shelves stocked with food, after “rarely” ever needing to do so prior to the energy crisis.
Kate Lott, operations coordinator at Living Well, told the i this has forced the organisation to reluctantly reduce the number of weekly visits guests can make from two to one.
She said: “Demand is high and the average person who would normally donate is worried, they are squeezed so they’re not giving us the tins. It’s a perfect storm.”
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Ms Lott added: “I keep saying it’s a cost of giving crisis as well as the cost of living crisis. People can’t give as much as before. Of course you’re not going to give your last fiver to buy a tin.”
This comes after food banks had previously warned that vast swathes of the population would not be able to cope during the winter months as grocery prices are also rising, while fuel bills are also getting more expensive.
While Truss’ £2,500 bill freeze will help to limit the damage, it received mixed responses from food bank owners and managers.
Tom Hayden, CEO of the Good Shepherd food bank in Wolverhampton, which has helped secure food parcels and help homeless people for over 50 years, said that freezing bills at £2,500 does “not go far enough”.
He told Express & Star: “It’s nowhere near enough. People are struggling now and have been facing the reality of ‘heat or eat’. Even going up to £2,500 will push people into poverty.”
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Jen Coleman, head of the Black Country Food Bank, said: “I think it will help but that’s still a massive amount for families, who are already struggling with the cost of living crisis. Even people in employment are struggling. That is a very quick reaction and is positive but there’s still a lot more to be done.”
She later added, as Express & Star reports, that “people are so worried about winter that people are worried about spending the money they do have”.
According the Trussel Trust, a charity aiming to stop UK hunger, one in five (21 percent) people from a YouGov survey of 1,846 people on Universal Credit were unable to cook hot food this summer as they couldn’t afford to use the cooker. Meanwhile, almost a quarter (23 percent) have been unable to travel to work or essential appointments because they couldn’t afford the cost of public transport or fuel.
The Trussell Trust also estimates that over two million people claiming Universal Credit skipped meals to keep up with other essential costs in the previous three months.