Why more Britons are turning to food banks

Volunteer Tania Nedvetsky helps arrange donations to Dad’s House, a food bank in London.

In an upmarket neighborhood of west London, a storefront between a bicycle shop and a coffee house is being visited by an increasing number of people, which charges no money and caters exclusively to the less fortunate.

Dad’s House is one of 2,200 food banks in the United Kingdom serving Britons struggling to make ends meet. Its founder Billy McGranaghan told CNN Business that “the future is bleak” for visitors to his shop.

London’s food banks were busy before the pandemic. But now, as the United Kingdom prepares for a second winter with the coronavirus, rising food prices, high energy costs and cutting government benefits are putting a huge strain on the household budget and forcing people to donate.

Food banks in the capital city have reported an increase in visits in recent weeks, with more and more working professionals seeking help with groceries after the end of a government program that subsidized millions of jobs during the pandemic and helped those in need. reduction in welfare payments for Low income.

McGranaghan, 58, estimates he has added 70 recipients to his food bank since mid-September, with 300 to 400 already being served each week. He said the demographics of new customers are wider than ever. Roughly 70 people were expected on the day CNN Business visited Dad’s house.

“It’s been an eye-opener where you would never have thought that person would ever use a food bank,” he said. “They’ve never been in that position.”

Billy McGranaghan, center, founder of Dad’s Home, delivers meals from The Felix Project.

Dad’s Home volunteer Luke Tiedman, left, helps a client.

Hundreds of people are served every week at Dad’s house.

McGranaghan said Dad’s House has served teachers, graphic designers and journalists during the pandemic. People come to food banks through referrals from the local government or after searching online for support.

But now, new customers are starting to get younger and single. And despite relatively low unemployment and a record number of job vacancies across the country, McGranaghan expects a “huge surge” in attendees over the next few months.

“We’re seeing a rise again… because of electricity prices, because of gas, because of the end of furloughs,” he said.

Mary, 63, who declined to give her surname, first came to Dad’s house four months ago and is already worried about her next trimester heating bill. That said, her husband has problems with her blood circulation, so maintaining a warm home is essential.

“In terms of food, we don’t eat much because we don’t eat plush food, it’s just basic,” he said. “It’s energy prices that never go down, never come down, so that’s a concern.”

Seven miles to the east, at another food bank in London, CNN Business expected 100 customers at an evening meal service. The staff prepared pumpkin soup.

Robert Huninger, 42, in May last year converted his catering business, Humdingers, into a food bank that served 1,000 people a week during the lockdown.

Robert Huninger, owner of Haminger’s Soup Kitchen, stands with his 6-year-old son, James, and welcomes customers who line up outside.

He said the number of visitors per week has increased to 250 since the end of September. A wide range of people are now coming forward, including young professionals, school teachers and a semi-pro tennis player.

“Even if you have a job, there’s no hope because you can’t afford to be here,” Huninger said. “Everything is out of arm’s reach and then prices are going up so much.”

Gary Lemon, director of policy and research at The Trussell Trust, which distributes groceries to nearly two-thirds of the UK’s food banks – though not Dad’s House or Hummingbirds – told CNN Business that many of its members are “to come up with more people.” Very busy with the need for emergency food to them.”

“He expects this to continue in the weeks leading up to Christmas,” Lemon said.

bill through the roof

Rising fuel and food prices have pushed up the household bills of millions of Britons. Since January, wholesale gas prices have risen 423%, according to data from industry group Oil & Gas UK. A mix of factors explain the growth, including higher demand from Asia and lower-than-expected Russian gas exports.

In response, the UK’s energy regulator increased its consumer price cap – the maximum suppliers can charge customers per unit of energy – by 13% from 1 October, affecting 15 million people.

A volunteer helps Guke Dainne choose the products at Dad’s House.

Artist Jameson Keane, 49, who took care of his mother, began visiting dad during the pandemic.

“I’m on a limited budget, about £100 ($138) a week,” he told CNN Business. “My money runs out very quickly.”

Keane said that despite using the same amount of fuel, its energy costs are higher than ever. He estimates that the money in his energy meter is being spent “a third faster in the past two weeks — gas in particular.”

High energy prices are a problem across Europe, but the relatively low level of stored gas in the UK makes it particularly exposed to volatile energy markets.

Many Britons are poised for higher bills in April when the energy regulator next adjusts its consumer price cap.

‘heating or eating’

More than a decade of government austerity in the United Kingdom has exhausted the budget for health care, housing and welfare. A scathing 2019 report by the United Nations Human Rights Council blamed the spending cuts for the “systematic immersion of millions”.

According to the government’s own measure, before the pandemic, around 14.5 million Britons, or 22%, were living in poverty. One think tank, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, expects more people to fall into poverty as the benefits of the pandemic subside.

Qadriye Ali stands outside Humdinger’s Soup Kitchen. He noticed that food was getting more expensive and started going to the food bank 10 months ago.

Fruits and vegetables are on display in Dad’s house. Food banks in London have reported an increase in visits in recent weeks.

In early October, the government cut Universal Credit – a benefit claimed by those out of work or earning low income – back to its pre-pandemic levels. More than 5.8 million people lost £20 ($28) in a week, which increased to £1,040 ($1,431) a year.

McGranaghan said the cuts have forced some of his clients to make difficult choices.

“(They would) eat salad on a cold October night instead of actually having something they could put in the oven,” he said. “That’s the reality of losing £20 a week – be it warming up or eating out.”

Amina, a food bank client who declined to be named, said the temporary profit increase has been a lifeline for her family of five.

“For me it’s very helpful, £20, maybe for someone else, for someone else it’s nothing, but for me it’s money, especially for the family, if you have kids,” she said.

“When you get used to doing something and they take it away, you can feel the difference,” she said. “We don’t know how to manage honestly.”

The UK government has also wrapped up its £69 billion ($95 billion) pandemic furlough programme. In August, it reduced payments to employers from 70% of an employee’s monthly wage to 60%, before stopping completely at the end of September.

Sabine Goodwin, coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, an organization that represents more than 500 food banks, including Dad’s House, told CNN Business that “demanding for the capacity of food banks to support people this winter is a real threat”.

He said the government’s reliance on donations to feed its people was “neither morally acceptable nor sustainable.”

People line up for a hot meal outside Hamdinger’s Soup Kitchen.

A spokesperson for the UK Department for Work and Pensions, which manages benefit payments, told CNN Business that “Universal Credit continues to provide an important safety net for millions of people.”

The spokesman said the government was committed to eradicating poverty and created a new £500 million ($688 million) fund to help the most vulnerable with essential costs during this winter.

‘Catch-22’ for stressful food banks

Food banks are not a new phenomenon in modern Britain – between 2010 and 2019, the number of emergency food parcels delivered by The Trussell Trust rose by 2,543%, driven by cuts to the country’s social security system.

But supply chain bottlenecks, rising food prices and shortages in supermarkets have limited their ability to feed struggling families as the economy recovers from its pandemic.

McGranaghan told CNN Business that it puts Dad’s house in a “catch-22.”

“We depend on the public to donate food, but they haven’t got enough food on the shelves for their families,” he said. “When donations go down and that’s a big, big concern for all the independent food banks.”

In east London, Hunninger said supermarkets no longer let him buy in bulk because they ran out of stock.

“I have to go to more expensive places,” he said. “20 (pence) pasta at Tesco (supermarket) is fantastic and I want seven boxes a week – I’m not allowed.”

Gerald Stevens delivers meals from Felix Project to Dad’s House.

Mai Pedersen gets a hot meal from Haminger’s Soup Kitchen. Like many others, she was working until the pandemic, and then fell on hard times and started receiving free food.

A father visits Humming’s soup kitchen with his children. Now a wider range of people are exposed, says Robert Huninger.

Supermarkets are having trouble keeping their shelves stocked as the United Kingdom has fewer than 100,000 truck drivers due to an exodus of EU workers after Brexit. The pandemic also limited the number of certification tests for new commercial truck drivers.

The shortage was made worse in September when panic-stricken service stations across the country ran out of fuel.

Fairshare, a charity that redistributes surplus supermarket food to charities and community groups including food banks, told CNN Business that all 30 of its regional centers were affected by the shortage.

Fairshare CEO Lindsay Boswell said it normally receives 160 metric tons of groceries a day, but fuel shortages reduced deliveries to less than 100 metric tons.

“On an average day, we expect to get up to 30% of the food in our warehouses that may not reach us,” Boswell said. “And (is) therefore at risk of not reaching the vulnerable people we support.”

‘We’re going back in time’

Some economists have warned that rising inflation in the United Kingdom, coupled with weak economic growth, could lead to a period of “inflation” reminiscent of the 1970s, when wages failed to keep pace with the rocketing costs of living. .

As higher grocery prices reduce the purchasing power of Britons, food banks are preparing for more visitors, and themselves to spend more.

Rajesh Makwana, director of Sufra, a food bank in north-west London, told CNN Business that he is “prepared for increased demand as the cost of living continues to rise.”

“The cost of our food is already very high, so even a small increase will be painful,” he said.

Michael Mercury, center, talks with Hamdinger’s Soup Kitchen owner Robert Huninger while lining up for a meal.

According to official data, inflation rose by 3.1 per cent in September. This is well above the central bank’s target rate of 2%, but well below the 5% pace set for early next year, according to Bank of England chief economist Hugh Pill.

The government plans to raise the minimum wage from £8.91 ($12.27) to £9.50 ($13.09) an hour in April, but rising cost of living will boost Britain’s spending power.

Geraldine Hurley, 62, a retiree from east London, was passed by Humdingers as it launched its evening meal service, and stopped talking to CNN Business.

“My coffee, it’s always been £5 ($6.88) a jar, it’s now at Tesco for £5.75 ($7.91),” she said. “What kind of growth is this?”

Although Hurley commends food banks like Humdingers for stepping up to support their community, she is disappointed by their need for them.

“We really shouldn’t be doing this nowadays,” she said. “We’re going back in time.”

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