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Welfare cuts and Universal Credit will drive more people to rely on food parcels, food banks warn

Wed, 07/22/2015 - 09:50 -- Rob Parker
  • 75% of food banks predict increase in numbers relying on their service
  • Demand for food parcels increased significantly in the past 12 months
  • Half of food banks are ‘struggling’ or ‘only just’ coping with demand
  • 65% of food banks say people ‘feel ashamed’ about using them

Welfare cuts and the introduction of Universal Credit will force more people to rely on handouts from food banks, according to a new report by thinkmoney.

Two-thirds of the independent food banks questioned said they would struggle to cope with just a 5% increase in demand.

Michelle Welch, who co-founded Compassion Food Bank in Manchester’s Moss Side, said she is concerned about the impact of Universal Credit. “Suddenly, people will have all of their income in one go and they’ll have to budget for the entire month. We know that we’ll have more people coming in here.” Compassion already helps over 4,000 people a year in the community.

Caroline Collins, from the Raft Foundation, an independent food bank in Rawtenstall in Lancashire, said: “Lots of people have ‘employment poverty’. They have jobs but they are zero hours or minimum wage jobs, so one little thing can push them over and suddenly, they can’t afford food. Many people are only two or three pay packets away from crisis.”

The introduction of Universal Credit is the biggest overhaul of the benefits system since the 1940s and affects almost eight million people.

Half of independent food banks said demand for their services had increased over the past 12 months and they are ‘struggling’ or ‘only just coping’ with the current levels of need, according to research* into 70 independent food banks by budgeting account provider thinkmoney.

Welfare cuts, delays and sanctions were the biggest cause (76%) of people needing to visit independent food banks. Problem debt and low wages account for a further 11%, according to the figures. Some 12% of independent food banks say they have seen the number of people coming to them for help double in the past year.

Going hungry

While they try to supply enough food to sustain their visitors, the food banks questioned estimated that 93% of the people they help go hungry at least once a week to ensure they can feed their families. Alarmingly, they say as many as 28% of people skip a meal every day to ensure they can make food supplies stretch.

Ian Williams, a spokesperson for thinkmoney, said:  “It’s shocking that in 21st Century Britain so many people are relying on food banks and still going hungry on a regular basis. The research identifies the growing strain on independent food banks, which are often set-up to plug gaps left by cuts in local services. It’s concerning to think what will happen if the food banks aren’t able to cope with increasing demands.”

Independent food banks have the flexibility to decide how they will raise funds and how much support to give to each person requesting help. On average, independent food banks help 45 people a week, and 10% support more than 100 people a week.

The biggest source of strain

The biggest source of strain for almost a third of independent food banks is a lack of regular food supplies. This is followed by being housed in a building that is too small (25%), not having enough volunteers (22%), and not having enough donations of non-food items (9%). Some 91% of independent food banks provide additional services including clothes, household items, and advice on medical budgeting, debt and housing problems.

Almost 80% of independent food banks rely on donations from the public via donation points at supermarkets, churches and schools, as well as their own volunteers.

Just 4 out of the 70 food banks, which took part in the research, said they received donations from supermarkets themselves. However, a fifth of independent food banks said they would like to see more supermarkets and food producers partnering with them to donate items.

Furthermore, almost half of independent food banks said if demand for their service increases they would be forced to approach supermarkets and food producers for support.

With many independent food banks housed in churches or community centres, one of their biggest challenges is safely storing and distributing fresh produce. This means that the majority of produce given to those who need support is dried, tinned or powered produce such as beans, hot dogs, tuna, rice, pasta, soup and tinned fruit and vegetables.

Failing to meet basic nutritional standards

Some 91% of food banks said that less than a quarter of their produce is fresh, and 30% said that none of the food they give out is fresh. 42% of food banks said the supplies they give would fail to meet basic nutritional standards, if not supplemented by additional fresh produce.

Deborah Chapman, who runs Llanelli Lifeshare Food Bank in Wales, said: “I believe that we are storing-up a health nightmare for the future because of the reliance of food banks. I would be concerned about people’s health if they are only eating from food banks for long periods of time, as most of it is tinned or dried. Our aim is to provide the staples so people can afford to buy fresh food.”

Ian Williams added: “It’s natural that we want to give our children the best we can and that includes feeding them well. For too many families, that is becoming almost impossible. We understand that it can be difficult to budget and make money stretch when you are living on a mixture of benefits and wages, particularly when these can change from one month to the next.”

Ending the sigma of food banks

Despite the increasing number of people who rely on food banks, 65% of those questioned believe the people they help ‘feel ashamed’ about needing their services, and 15% say society ‘looks down on’ those people.

Caroline Collins from The Raft Foundation adds:  “For us, it’s about keeping people’s dignity. As well as food, we provide household items such as shampoo, toothpaste and toilet rolls. If you can’t brush your teeth or wash your hair, you’ll feel very poor. All we’re doing then is throwing a sticking plaster at the problem.”

*RedDot questioned 70 independent food banks in the UK between 29th May 2015 and 16th June 2015.

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