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Feature: Demand for food banks ‘unprecedented’

The Trussell Trust is urgently asking for donations to enable food banks to continue supporting their communities.

The trust supports more than 1,200 food bank centres in the UK, who provide a minimum of three days’ nutritionally-balanced emergency food to people who have been referred in crisis.

Following the coronavirus outbreak, food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network reported their busiest month ever in April, with an 89% increase in emergency food parcels given to people across the UK compared to the same period in 2019.

The figures include a 107% increase in parcels going to children compared to last year. While the number of families with children receiving parcels has almost doubled compared to the same period last year.

Independent food banks are also seeing similar increases, with the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) reporting a 175% cent increase in demand for emergency food parcels in the UK during April 2020 compared to last year.

Coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, Sabine Goodwin, said: ‘Our food bank figures paint a grim picture of what is unfolding across the UK and the numbers of people having to resort to emergency food parcels to survive.

‘But the solution to the escalating food insecurity crisis has never been the provision of charitable food aid.

‘Everyone needs to be able to afford to buy food and the bare essentials.’

Providing a lifeline

A coalition of charities, including the Trussell Trust, IFAN and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is urging the government to act quickly in providing a stronger lifeline to people to prevent many from being swept into destitution.

The coalition says a first step should be to make sure local authorities in England have enough funding to provide emergency cash grants so money can be put directly into people’s pockets quickly.

Welfare benefit expert at Turn2us, Anna Stevenson, said: ‘Food banks do a fantastic job getting immediate practical support to people in their communities, however it shouldn’t be left to charities to do the job our social security safety net should be doing.

‘The coronavirus has affected so many of us financially, this must be the catalyst for the government to build upon the steps it has already taken to make sure everyone can afford to put food on the table and not just survive, but be able to thrive.’

An increase in funding to local authorities in England would help bring the government response on this type of support closer to that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This is one part of a temporary Coronavirus Emergency Income Support Scheme proposed by the coalition to ensure everyone has enough money in their pockets for essentials during this crisis. The scheme would include:

  • Increasing benefits that go to families to help with the costs of raising children
  • Extending the suspension of benefit deductions to include advance payments – the loans offered to cover the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment
  • Lifting the benefit cap to ensure this support scheme benefits everyone

Child Poverty Action Group‘s chief executive, Alison Garnham, says the government should make increasing children’s benefits the priority.

‘These figures are grim.

‘No parent wants to depend on charity to feed their own child but it is clear that food banks are becoming the only option for a growing number of families whose finances have all but collapsed because of Covid-19.

‘Struggle is turning to real hardship. The government has quickly put in place unprecedented and very welcome schemes to support family finances in the wake of Covid-19, but too many households are falling through the gaps.

‘An uplift in children’s benefits should be the priority now to shield children from poverty and its lifelong effects.’

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, added:

‘We have been seeing rises in food bank need for the past five years but this 89 per cent increase, with the number of families coming to food banks doubling, is completely unprecedented and not right.

‘People need to be able to put food on their table. The government must put urgent support in place to ensure people already struggling to keep their heads above water can stay afloat.

‘We have outlined what we need our government to do, it’s in our power to protect one another, we’ve seen it during this health crisis, and we need it to continue during this economic one.’

Don’t accept this as normal

Tom Say, senior campaign manager for the trust, says there are a number of ways we can both support food banks now, and help create a future where they are no longer needed.

‘Don’t accept that this is normal.  Continue to be shocked and saddened by the news of increased food bank use and think about how you can play a part in working towards a future where food banks are not needed.

‘If you can, donate food or money. They are all volunteer-run individual charities so if you can donate cash that would help.  Volunteers are grateful for all donations, but each food bank has different demands and shortages.

‘If you’re planning to donate, find your local food bank on social media. They will be doing shoutouts for what they need. People can also donate their time by volunteering at a Trussell Trust food bank or warehouse.

‘If you don’t have the time or money there are other things you can do; if you’re part of a community group you can encourage them to donate to their local food banks. Or get in touch with your local councillor or MP and ask them to speak about the increased need for food banks in parliament.’

The Department for Work and Pensions has been contacted for a comment.

For more information or to donate click here. 

Photo Credit – The Trussell Trust

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