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Food banks in UK facing ‘shocking’ poverty levels and ‘critical’ demand as cost of living crisis bites

Managers of food banks across the UK say they are reaching a ‘critical level’ as demand soars and donations dip

New figures released by the Trussell Trust this week revealed food banks across the UK handed out almost 2.2 million emergency food parcels last year.

Coventry Foodbank told NationalWorld they are reaching a “critical level” of all stocks as fewer people are able to donate, while more are reliant on the service amid the cost of living crisis.

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Dee Ward, project manager at Coventry Foodbank, said the latest figures by the trust show the “shocking reality” of poverty levels in the UK.

We spoke to representatives of several food banks to understand how they are coping during the cost of living crisis, how they have helped people in their time of need, and what they are urging the Government to do to help.

How are food banks coping with the cost of living crisis?

Dee Ward said that they are expecting demand to keep rising as centres report they are having their “busiest weeks”.

She said: “At present we are pre-packing 200 parcels a week to cover the demand we are facing at the moment.

“For the most part we are managing but we ran out of stocks of tinned vegetables, tinned fruit, tinned potatoes and instant mash.”

She added: “At the current demand we will be at a critical level of all stocks as the cost of living rises and people are unable to donate to us as regularly as they used to.”

Nicola Hawkes, South Liverpool Foodbank co-ordinator, told NationalWorld that the centre had seen “a small decrease in regular donations in recent months, which means that we are purchasing some items regularly in significant quantities to ensure we can continue to supply our nutritionally balanced three-day parcels.”

However, she added that the centre had been “blessed with many new faces” of people wanting opportunities to help, as well as a “strong community response” in the surrounding area.

Volunteers at Coventry Foodbank added: “What we do is a drop in the ocean of the poverty experienced, but we are a very necessary drop.

“Supporting visitors at the food bank is a reminder to all that anything could happen in our lives resulting in a change of circumstances where we ourselves may need support from a network such as a food bank.”

The vital work of food banks

Ms Ward said the Trussell Trust figures show the “shocking reality” of how people are “struggling and being driven to visit a food bank instead of having money to buy the basic essentials.”

She shared stories of people the centre has helped and how they have made a difference.

“One guy who needed help over several months was an engineer by profession but had lost his job in the car industry and found himself in a very difficult place.

“Over the weeks as we supported and signposted him to other organisations, he found his feet and managed to get a job to support his family.”

Ms Ward added that another woman “came to us in a terrible state with her children in tow; she was emotionally exhausted and abused and in such a low place.

“We loved, supported, fed and listened to her heart-breaking story, but over the months we saw a gradual change for the better.

“Now she pops back with a smile on her face, happy and settled, with restored relationships and brings us donations to help others.”

Ms Hawkes of South Liverpool Foodbank said: “One client story that springs to mind is a gentleman who came to one of our foodbanks who had been turned down for financial support to take an ongoing professional qualification assessment to get back into work.

“The centre that he visited is run by a volunteer team, including case-workers, from the local MP’s office, and they were able to obtain funding for that assessment, he passed and subsequently found work.”

‘How can this be right in a society like ours?’

The Trussell Trust said the Government must act fast to lessen the impact of the crisis on vulnerable communities, warning people are already skipping meals to feed their children as they sink further into financial hardship.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, added the Government should bring benefits in line with the “true cost of living” by increasing them by at least 7%.

She said: “People are telling us they’re skipping meals so they can feed their children. That they are turning off essential appliances so they can afford internet access for their kids to do their homework.

“How can this be right in a society like ours? “

The number of emergency food parcels being given out by Trussell Trust food banks has gradually increased since 2014-15.

The number peaked at 2.6 million in 2020-21 during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The most recent numbers for 2021-22 show a 15% drop on the previous year but the number was still 14% higher compared to 2019-20 (before the pandemic).

It was also only the second time the charity’s food banks had provided more than two million parcels – providing an early indication of the impact the cost of living crisis is having on households across the country.

However, the Trussell Trust said the Government is still choosing not to protect people who are already struggling to make ends meet.

What are food banks urging the Government to do?

Ms Ward said she would like to see the Government “acknowledge this report and commit to being a society where if you are struggling, the social security system is robust enough to ensure that no-one goes hungry in this country.”

She added: “The Government needs to raise the basic level of benefits to the real cost of living and ensure everyone can afford the basic essentials and face the cost of living no matter what the circumstances.”

Meanwhile Ms Hawkes said there is an “urgent need for welfare support to rise in line with the cost of living”.

What has the Government said?

A Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures on the cost of living and we are doing what we can to help, including spending £22 billion across the next financial year to support people with energy bills and cut fuel duty.

“For the hardest hit, we’re putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families on Universal Credit, have also boosted the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and our Household Support Fund is there to help with the cost of everyday essentials.”