A man has described of being forced to queue up for free groceries from a food bank after being unable to make ends meet under the pressure of a devastating cost of living crisis. Trussell Trust, a charity operating food banks across the country, raised the alarm last week when it announced more than 320,000 people had been forced to turn to food banks for the first time within the past six months, an increase of 40 percent compared to 2021.
Ben Pennel, 38, who lives in Warrington, Cheshire, was referred to his local food bank from the home he is staying at after experiencing homelessness.
Despite his struggles, he feels grateful that he was able to receive help.
He told Express.co.uk: “I owe a lot to Warrington food bank. About this time last year, I arrived in Warrington, and I had just got my fourth stint in treatment, drug rehab.
“I was homeless, found a place to stay – this wonderful organisation called Recovery Homes, and they signposted me to the food bank.
“When I needed it, they helped provide basic needs. Obviously, without them, I would really have struggled.”
After being a service user, Ben began volunteering for the food bank and now sees hundreds of people queueing up for the basics daily.
He said the situation has become drastically worse over the past few months since inflation has soared: “It’s a collapse every day,” he added.
“People are struggling to cover their basic human needs. You don’t have to look at any economic figures to see what’s happening on a day-to-day level.
“The service users are going up each week, and the food that we have on the shelves to help those people is going down.
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“It used to be just a case of needing food, but now, people are presenting to us with a complex range of issues that are preventing them from being able to cover their basic needs.
“And there is no typical food banks user. Everyone can find themselves in this situation.
“When one in five people presenting themselves to food banks are in full-time paid employment, that hits home.
“There is a massive amount of purchases and food banks are an essential service that helps people at a point of crisis and emergency survive.”
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With increased demand and no central funding, food banks are being squeezed to their limits and Ben fears the capacity will be limited soon.
He added: “We are in a position now that if this situation continues, with the provisions that we have, the system might stop being sustainable.”
Thinking of the dramatic consequences of people being denied help even from food banks, and reflecting on his own experience, he said: “This is a crisis, it is an emergency that needs to be dealt with now, it cannot wait.”
Asked what the main way of support to vulnerable people experiencing food poverty should be, Ben stressed that Universal Credit rates should definitely match inflation.
He noted: “Benefits ought to be in line with inflation. This now is like an invisible tax on people. People who are in need at the moment.
“And also, where are the £35 billion worth of spending cuts? I wonder where that’s going to come from?
“My fear is that the people who need it most are the ones that are going to be penalised.”
Ben described the situation that he is facing every day as “the tip of the iceberg”, as inflation rates are projected to climb even higher amid a disastrous recession.
He added: “We have no idea where the boundaries of this crisis are, especially now that winter is coming and heating costs are adding up.
“I fear I might see myself returning to the queue, there is every possibility.”