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Church News

Food banks fear winter crisis and exhausted volunteers as demand soars

by Premier Journalist

Food banks across the UK are reporting growing concerns as more people face financial hardship and come to them for help. They say this summer demand has risen by up to 50% in some areas, sparking fears of a devastating winter ahead unless something is done.

Ryan Legg of Storehouse Foodbank in Babergh said: “We are very concerned about the increase in demand once heating is required. I'm not sure how people will cope again this winter.”

The latest survey from the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) shows food bank managers with mounting worries, as resources to offer people in need are stretched thin:

●     84% of survey respondents reported increased need

●     Nearly half reported a rise in the number struggling to feed babies 

●     Most said more people are seeking long-term help 

 (IFAN survey - August 2023)                       

IFAN says as food prices rise, an increasing number of working people are coming to them, unable to afford enough food even by working two or three jobs. IFAN says the pressure on volunteers and food charity staff is unsustainable.

The work is valuable but can be demanding, for staff and volunteers alike.  One food bank manager said: “Our biggest challenge is volunteering… 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 they’re also ‘pastors’, meeting people face to face, who are often at their lowest point of deepest need.  A knock-on effect of rising food prices is that donations are less plentiful.  When the shelves are more empty, food bank staff and volunteers face difficult decisions over how to limit the number of food parcels they can offer.

Su Parrish, who runs a foodbank in Crawley has put spiritual support in place for her team, for when the work becomes too emotionally draining: “Most of our volunteers signed up to give out food parcels and be a friendly face spreading some love. They didn't anticipate the level of stress that our clients now exhibit because of the situations they find themselves in.”

The Trussell Trust which runs over 1,300 food bank centres across the UK has taken similar steps, according to a report in The Guardian, giving staff and volunteers access to, "a package of health and wellbeing support, including help with compassion fatigue, mental health first aid, face-to-face appointments with GPs and counsellors, and access to a helpline provided by the Samaritans."

Speaking on the BBC's "Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg" programme, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt insisted the government's plan to reduce inflation is working, although he warned of a possible small rise coming up: "I do think we may see a blip in inflation in September... but after that the Bank of England is saying it will fall down to around 5%.

The figure would need to hit about 5.3% if Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's pledge to halve inflation by the end of the year is to be met.

IFAN says the government needs to address the root causes of food insecurity, including the 5-week wait for Universal Credit, and other restrictions on financial entitlements which they claim are exacerbating an already desperate situation. They want to see wages rise and a cash-first system introduced, to prevent people going hungry while waiting for benefits.

Sabine Goodwin, Coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network talked of, “increasingly widespread and alarming reports of unprecedented financial hardship" across the UK and insisted the government must act:

"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.”

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