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Turning the tide - Food banks urge the Prime Minister to take action

From the Independent Food Aid Network

This week, IFAN reported that compared to May last year, there was a 177% increase in the number of 3-day emergency food parcels distributed by independent food banks in May 2020. This figure is shocking. At a time when most people were still being asked to stay at home to stay safe because of the pandemic, teams of volunteers across the country were not only continuing to source, sort and distribute food in their communities, but they were distributing almost three times as many emergency parcels as the previous year.

And even more concerning is that there is no end in sight. Our report reveals that month on month, the difference between what food banks are distributing this year is widening in comparison with last year’s figures. While we might have expected a sharp increase in March and April, because people throughout the UK were scrambling to access what they needed in the early stages of the lockdown, this continued rise shows that we are nowhere near the end of this alarming trajectory.

Now after months of providing support under extraordinary pressure, independent food banks are calling for wider, systemic actions that will provide the adequate income or benefits that the people they support really need. Day after day food bank teams are extending a lifeline to adults and children with nowhere else to turn. They have unofficially become the 4th Emergency Service in every local authority in Britain. These voices from the frontline need to be heard.

In a week that has seen the Government prioritise giving £10 vouchers to restaurant-goers over making sure millions can eat at all, food bank managers and volunteers are telling the Prime Minister that relying on food charities is not the answer to people’s inability to afford food.

Here's our letter to the Prime Minister calling for the changes that will make all the difference to the millions living with the prospect of having nothing to eat or being unable to feed their children.

Sam Gilchrist of the West Northumberland Foodbank, Hexham said: “Every week people who have never had to use a food bank before are coming to us for help as a direct result of the Covid-19 lockdown and the toll it has taken on people’s jobs and livelihoods. At this point I can only see a rise in demand on our voluntary services and we are bracing ourselves for further job losses and yet another a rise in poverty.”

James Quayle of the North Paddington Foodbank, London said: “More and more people are in need of help and we can’t see an end in sight. What will make all the difference is to prevent the need from happening. Our clients need enough money to get by and to be able to afford to buy food.”

Joyce Leggate of Kirkcaldy Foodbank, Fife said: “April’s increase in demand has not diminished with many households finding themselves relying on the benefit system for the first time. So many households who have been barely coping in the past were plunged into poverty and there is little prospect of employment in the near future as the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the economy is realised.”

Jacquie Alsop, Hereford Food Bank, Hereford said: "We've been seeing unprecedented demand for emergency food parcels over recent months. But we're also very aware of the immeasurable numbers of people who don't seek our help because they are new to poverty and are perhaps ashamed to ask for support or can't access support as a result of their rural location. The lack of transport and in some cases no access to internet services isolates those in poverty even further. Food banks have been normalised and are becoming an acceptable part of how those experiencing poverty are supposed to survive. This shouldn’t be the case." Mary McGinley of the Helensburgh and Lomond Foodbank, Agyll and Bute said: "We must ensure that those who are already finding it impossible to meet their current living costs due to low incomes or benefits are not left short of food or heating as the cost of living rises. They together with the large number of new unemployed should not have to rely on charity to feed themselves or their families. The voluntary sector should not be expected to be the safety net for those finding themselves without employment due to the impact of Covid-19."

Sabine Goodwin, Coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network said: “Food bank teams have provided incredible and vital support during the COVID-19 crisis but it’s clearer than ever that short-term fixes are not the answer. Food banks should not be relied on to fill the ever-growing gap. Now is the time to focus on what’s causing people to fall into and become trapped in poverty and to address the policies driving food bank use in the first place.”


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