- As the country grapples with a soaring cost-of-living crisis, food-bank usage in the UK is rising.
- People are struggling to feed their families and heat their homes.
- At a food bank in West London, people told Insider their fears around money, family, and isolation.
People in the UK are grappling with a soaring cost-of-living crisis, and food-bank usage is rising at an unprecedented rate.
Food banks are seeing a surge in people unable to afford food and other basics. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s most extensive network of food banks, has seen demand increase more than 80%.
In May 2022, the Independent Food Aid Network surveyed 101 of its organizations, representing 194 independent food banks, and found that 93% of organizations have seen increased demand for food since the start of this year, with 95% saying the cost-of-living crisis caused these increases.
Anna Maughan has been running the independent Finchley Food Bank for over eight years in a prosperous suburb of North London. She told Insider that the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically ratcheted up the need for food banks, with her operation feeding 140 households a week during the lockdowns — equating to aboout 420 individuals — up from 45 families pre-COVID.
“What we’re finding is that people haven’t recovered from the COVID crisis, and we are seeing an increase in those figures with the cost-of-living crisis,” Maughan said, explaining that her food bank, which relies on donations, recently fed 152 households in one day.
London has more food banks than any other region of the UK, with the Trussell Trust helping 283,563 people in the city in 2021/22, with there being many other individual food banks working to provide food to those in need across the capital city. Dad’s House, a charity in Earl’s Court, West London, is one of them.
As the brisk October sun shined through the windows, ten people gathered around the table at Dad’s House, a bright-yellow building that sits on the main road of an affluent area whose streets are lined with 19th-century columned townhouses.
The diverse group was tucking into a lunch prepared by Jamana, a Syrian refugee who emigrated to the UK with her four children. The charity was set up initially to help single dads, but now hundreds of people come for various needs, all uniting over their love of Jamana’s cooking.
Zahia was one of the mums sitting down to enjoy a meal at the charity. When she leaves, she’ll take a bag full of food home to feed her two teenage daughters and husband for the week.
COVID-19 was when things got really difficult for her family, she told me. Her husband lost his hospitality job, and the family suddenly had no income, so they had to turn to food banks to ensure they could eat.
And now, it’s only getting harder. She said she’s scared she won’t be able to heat her home this winter.
Despite its sunny exterior and kids’ drawings lining the walls of Dad’s House, there was an atmosphere of anxiety about the country’s economic turmoil.
Other people around the table chimed in with stories similar to Zahia’s, some with tears welling in their eyes as they described how isolating the pandemic has been for them — especially those who do not speak English as a first language and feel even more isolated.
And they were all terrified about what’s to come this winter, with multiple people saying they didn’t know if they’d be able to afford to heat their homes, as UK gas prices have risen over 100% in the past 12 months, according to the Office for National Statistics.
According to the National Energy Action and Food Foundation, the average annual energy bill has increased from £1,271, or about $1,424, to £2,500, or about $2,801, in 12 months.
Recent data from the Trussell Trust found that one in five people on Universal Credit, a form of government welfare, were unable to cook hot food this summer because they couldn’t afford to use a stove or an oven, and that 38% of people had to skip meals for an entire day because they couldn’t afford to buy enough food.
At the beginning of September, research by the living-standards charity the Resolution Foundation found that household income is set to drop by almost £3,000, as higher food costs, energy prices, and mortgage-rate increases batter people’s personal finances. With real incomes down by 7%, the number of people living in poverty is set to rise by over 3 million, according to the group.
With another energy-price rise in October, the UK charity End Fuel Poverty has suggested that 7 million households will soon be living in fuel poverty.
‘We’re about to go into a poverty we haven’t seen since World War II’
The rapidly climbing cost of home heating and lighting is causing more and more UK citizens to fall into a poverty trap. A wage check at the end of the month is no longer enough to protect people from seeking support at food banks.
Even more middle-income people are turning to food banks. A recent survey of 2,500 nurses and health workers, carried out by the Cavell Nurses’ Trust, found that 14% were using food banks to feed themselves and their families, reported the Nursing Times. And media outlets have reported on cash-strapped police officers who have to use food banks.
Maugham, from the Finchley Food Bank, told Insider that 29% of her registered service users work, but their income is insufficient to cover their bills and food.
While sitting around the table at Dad’s House during the bustle of a busy afternoon, a new client rang to register for support. He has a full-time job running a nursery, but his income hasn’t kept up with soaring prices, and now he needs help to feed himself and his children.
The twice-weekly lunch club isn’t just an opportunity for food and community, Billy McGranaghan, the founder of Dad’s House, told Insider. He said his phone doesn’t stop ringing, with people asking for food, help with bills, and panicked questions about how they’ll survive.
Another visitor, 59-year-old Nick, said it’s been difficult paying for things like his three children’s school uniforms as it costs more now to just cover the basics.
Dad’s House has helped him in many ways, though, from connecting him to other single dads to giving him benefits advice and money to buy a washing machine.
—Dads House (@dadshouseuk) September 16, 2022
A father of three, Nick never thought he’d need a free lunch from a charity. The Oxford University graduate is a published author and was an entrepreneur in Thailand, but he lost everything when his businesses went bust and now lives in temporary accommodations.
He packed his bags full of food to take home to his girls and talked about his new job in a local supermarket. Nick said it’s not the job he thought he’d have in his late 50s, but he’s grateful to have some secure income.
“We’ve met so many families with anxiety, not knowing how they’re going to pay and not knowing what’s going to happen in October when the early nights start coming in again, and it gets cold,” McGranaghan said.
The sky-high energy costs are “killing families,” he said.
“We’re about to go into a poverty we haven’t seen since World War II,” McGranaghan said.
After hearing warnings like this for months, families are afraid of having to make a choice between heating or eating this winter.
Research by the National Energy Action and Food Foundation found that 67% of parents say they are worried that the increasing gas prices will mean they have less money to buy food, with 28% of parents saying they’ve cut down on the quality of the food they’re buying.
“People have had to choose between heating and eating,” Adam Scorer, the chief executive of National Energy Action, said. “This winter, millions will not have even that choice. The most vulnerable, including children, will be cold and hungry as energy prices spiral, despite government support. It’s a public-health emergency,”