INDEPENDENT food banks are reporting a bleak picture of more and more people facing financial hardship and in need of their help. The latest survey from the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) finds food bank managers deeply concerned about the growing number of people with nowhere else to turn, and fearing a calamitous winter to come.

  • 84 per cent of survey respondents reported increased need comparing April to July 2023 with last summer.
  • All contributing organisations said they were supporting households seeking help for the first time, including elderly and working people.
  • Most organisations said people are now seeking their help in the long-term, because of inadequate wages and financial entitlements.
  • Nearly half of contributing organisations reported a rise in the number of parents and carers struggling to feed babies.
  • Donations have fallen and if demand increases further, over half of the contributing organisations said they would need to reduce the support they offer or would have to turn people away.

IFAN says food bank workers and volunteers are overstretched, overworked and under-resourced. One food bank manager said: “Our biggest challenge is volunteering. Our organisation’s size and structure mean that it can be challenging to recruit, train and retain sufficient volunteers, especially as our largest volunteering demographic is retired volunteers who often struggle with the physical requirements of the role.”

And while surplus food from supermarkets and other sources is dwindling, donations from the public have also fallen. Food bank staff and volunteers are being forced to make impossible decisions about cutting back on support and deciding to limit the number of food parcels provided.

The scale and complexity of the cases volunteers and staff are trying to help with can also be extremely distressing. One food bank manager revealed the toll this is taking on her team: “Some of our volunteers are struggling to hear some of the current reasons for needing help. Some of the circumstances that clients are finding themselves in are heart-breaking”. Another said: “Our volunteers are amazingly resilient but with the increase in numbers of people in need and reduced amount of food, we’re struggling to cope. After three hours, volunteers are exhausted and feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained.”

IFAN is calling on the Government to take immediate action to increase social security payments. Adopting an Essentials Guarantee would be a critical step towards providing an adequate safety net for all. It says it is also vital that key drivers behind household food insecurity are addressed, including the five-week wait for Universal Credit, the benefit cap, the two-child limit, No Recourse to Public Funds status, benefit sanctions and benefit deductions.

IFAN calls for a cash first approach to food insecurity, and has co-produced Worrying About Money? cash first referral leaflets in over 110 local authorities in Scotland, England and Wales. These resources help support workers and people struggling to afford food to find local advice and cash first support to maximise income, and thus reduce the need for charitable food aid.

Sabine Goodwin, Coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network said: “The Government must urgently take heed of increasingly widespread and alarming reports of unprecedented financial hardship from across the UK. The impact of rising poverty levels is being felt across generations. Food bank staff and volunteers will continue to do their utmost to provide support but the weight of responsibility on their shoulders is too large. The charitable food aid sector is being pushed past breaking point. The solution is to reduce pressure on people struggling to afford the essentials, as well as food banks, by ensuring incomes are adequate and support is provided through a cash first approach.”

* Find a Worrying About Money? cash first referral leaflet for your local area here.

* More information on the Essentials Guarantee here.

* Source: Independent Food Aid Network