Dear [MP Name] MP,
I am writing to ask that you urgently work to address the root causes of growing poverty and food insecurity in our constituency. No one should have to turn to charity to be able to eat. Yet, over the last 13 years, increasing numbers of people have been pushed to the doors of independent food banks and other charitable food aid providers because they haven’t got enough money to afford food.
As the UK poverty crisis has escalated, the charitable food aid sector has been pushed past breaking point. The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) ran a survey of its members in August 2023 and found that 84% of respondents had seen demand rise this summer compared to the year before, 100% had supported people using food banks for the first time, and over 50% said, if demand continues to increase, they will need to reduce the level of support they provide.
Food banks and other food support services are being asked to do the impossible as they provide continued support to a growing cohort of people, including (as reported in IFAN’s August 2023 survey);
people in paid work whose wages are not enough to cover the cost of living
people who are already receiving all their benefit entitlements but are still not able to make ends meet
parents and carers struggling to feed their infant children
Trussell Trust data show similar increases with a dramatic rise in demand for the network’s services over the past few years. There are now food banks in every local authority in the UK. There are at least 1,172 independent food banks including those run by multiple faith groups as well as over 1,300 Trussell Trust food banks and food banks run by schools, universities, hospitals, and the Salvation Army.
Yet data on food bank use represents the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to wider levels of food insecurity, DWP data from the Family Resources Survey released in March 2023 show that 86% of households experiencing food insecurity did not access a food bank. There are far more people going hungry and skipping meals than are accessing food banks. .
In the past decade, the provision of charitable food aid in the UK has proved to be an ineffective, undignified and unsustainable response to the problem of escalating poverty. Food banks and other food aid groups can only ever provide a temporary sticking plaster through charitable food support. Food parcels can’t solve poverty, but raising incomes can.
IFAN advocates for a ‘cash first’ or income-focused approach to food insecurity. Not only do cash first interventions and support provide more dignity and choice for people facing financial hardship but they are effective at reducing food insecurity. Charitable food aid provision can only temporarily alleviate hunger.
Following the £20 weekly uplift to Universal Credit (UC) made during the pandemic, data from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Family Resources Survey showed a 16% reduction in the levels of food insecurity for households on UC the year up to March 2021. When this was cut in October 2021, more households were inevitably pushed into food insecurity and to the doors of food banks.
IFAN is calling on the Government to take immediate actions to address food insecurity through a cash first approach. These include:
Adopting an Essentials Guarantee - a step towards providing an adequate safety net for all
Ending the 5-week wait for Universal Credit
Removing the benefit cap, the two-child limit, the sanctions system and benefit deductions
Ending No Recourse to Public Funds status
Permanently extending the Household Support Fund to enable local authorities to provide crisis support via cash payments in every area
Ensuring employers pay adequate wages and provide job security
Investing in local advice services
Poverty and the reliance on charitable food aid has a devastating impact on people’s physical and mental health. A cash first approach to food insecurity reduces the need for charitable food aid and would ensure people can afford food and other essentials. Ultimately this approach would pave the way for everyone to be able to access a Living Income and a Healthy Standard of Living for All.
Like the Independent Food Aid Network, I would like to see the end for the need for charitable food aid in the UK. I very much look forward to hearing from you about how the UK’s growing poverty crisis can be further reduced both in the short and long term.
[Name/Email/Any other contact details]