This content is not available in your region

UK cost of living crisis: More turn to food banks in England as inflation soars

Access to the comments Comments
By Euronews  with AFP
euronews_icons_loading
A volunteer for the Edible London food project checks bananas to be put in food packs and delivered to residents who need it in the Haringey Council area on April 21, 2020.
A volunteer for the Edible London food project checks bananas to be put in food packs and delivered to residents who need it in the Haringey Council area on April 21, 2020.   -   Copyright  Matt Dunham / AP

Food banks in England are facing increasing demand as the country experiences its highest inflation in 30 years.

Organisations fear the situation will get worse in the coming months.

According to one of Britain's biggest food bank networks, the Trussel Trust, a record 2.5 million parcels were given to people in crisis last year alone, and since 2015, the number of people needing help to obtain food has risen every year.

Between 2020 to 2021, there was even a 33% increase and the Trussel Trust claims that 980,000 of those in need were children.

Nestled amid superstores at a retail park, the Colchester Foodbank in eastern England last year gave out a total of 165 tonnes of food — enough to feed 17,000 people.

But that could be surpassed this year, as the British annual inflation hit 5.4% in December, accompanied by real wages fall and food and energy costs rising.

"We think we're likely to feed 20,000 people in 2022," said foodbank manager Mike Beckett. "If there is a slowdown, and things get worse, it might be as many as 25,000 people.

"That is certainly a bit of a nightmare. Our worst-case scenario is maybe 30,000 people."

About 95% of the produce at the food bank, run by the Trussell Trust, comes from members of the public donating at collection points at local supermarkets.

But the current economic climate has forced many who wouldn't normally need food parcels to seek assistance.

"I normally put something in the foodbank trolley but now it's my turn to need some help," said 45-year-old Heidi, who said she was struggling with price rises on "just everything".

"I'm struggling big time, basically. Bills have got really high, that's why I'm here," she added.

Like many in Britain this winter, she will have to make the tough choice between "heating or eating".

"My electricity is going up. I'm putting in probably about £80 (€95) a month now, as opposed to 40 or 50 last year," she explained.

'Fundamentally flawed'

The trust says the number of people receiving three days' worth of emergency food from its centres across Britain has risen from some 26,000 in 2009 to over 2.5 million in 2021.

British food writer and anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe noted after the latest inflation rise this week that the actual cost of many food staples has gone up by much more.

The cheapest pasta at her local supermarket a year ago cost £0.29 (€0.35) for 500 grams (around £1) while today it is £0.70 (€0.84) — a hike of 141%.

The cheapest rice was £0.45 (€0.54) for 1 kilogram but now costs £1.00 (€1.19) for 500g.

"That's a 344% price increase as it hits the poorest and most vulnerable households," she wrote in a viral Twitter thread read by millions.

"The system by which we measure the impact of inflation is fundamentally flawed — it completely ignores the reality and the REAL price rises for people on minimum wages, zero-hour contracts, food bank clients, and millions more."

Beckett agreed that "however you measure inflation doesn't really account for the cheap food going up, and it's going up by hundreds of per cent."

Low-income families are under extra pressure after the government returned welfare benefit payments to pre-pandemic levels, having increased them temporarily during lockdowns.

Beckett added that in 2020 — "a bumper year" — 42% of the food bank's clients were children.

"People come and report that it's taken them 20 minutes or an hour in their car to get up the courage to come in," he said.

"They didn't think they'd ever need to, they don't want to use the food bank, but they don't have a choice because they love their kids."

"The question is, when things are cold, people have to choose between eating or heating."

Chronic health problems like asthma and depression

In a report published this month, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation noted that "for children, severe food insecurity has been linked to chronic health conditions like asthma and depression".

A poor diet "will impede a child's physical, cognitive and emotional development. Adults in food-insecure households have a higher rate of developing chronic diseases such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and mental health issues," said the report on UK poverty in 2022.

The anti-poverty charity noted "key design features of the social security system that directly lead to higher food insecurity and have contributed to the rise in foodbank use".

They include having to wait a minimum of five weeks before getting initial benefit payments such as Universal Credit.

Others point to the fact that child benefits are capped at two children.

The cost of living in Britain is forecast to soar even higher in April owing to a tax hike and further planned increases of around 50% to domestic energy bills.

More painful tax increases are expected to foot the vast bill for COVID-19.

As a result, even more households across Britain will face fuel poverty, spending more than 10% of their total income on fuel.

"There's a lot of people in this situation who have never been in it before," revealed foodbank client Heidi.

"Everyone should put something at collection point). Because you never know when you're going to be in this situation. And I certainly didn't think I'd be in it."