Can food banks cope during the cost of living crisis?

File photo dated 17/01/18 of goods at a food bank, as charities, food banks and local groups are experiencing a drop in donations as cost-of-living pressures cause demand to reach
Many people in the UK, including those in work, are turning to food banks for help. (PA) (PA)

Food banks in the UK are struggling to cope as the nation grapples with the cost of living crisis, a charity has warned.

More food bank parcels are being handed out than ever before, as inflation - the rate at which prices increase - remains at its highest level for 40 years.

Many Britons, including those who are working, are turning to food banks for help as the cost of goods soar.

The pressure on food banks in the UK explained in 9 points:

The number of food parcels being handed out is rising. (Trussell Trust)
The number of food parcels being handed out is rising. (Trussell Trust) (Trussell Trust)

What is the current demand for food banks? The Trussell Trust charity, which supports more than 1,300 food bank centres, said last week there is a "tsunami of need", with demand for food parcels outstripping donations for the first time in its history. It said 1.3m emergency food parcels were provided between April and September this year, a third more than in 2021.

How has demand for food banks changed? The Trussell Trust said that in the first half of this financial year, it provided more food parcels than in a full 12-month period five years ago, when 1.2m parcels were distributed. The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) said last month that 91% of its organisations had seen an increase in demand since July 2022. More than four out of five of its groups said they had been impacted by supply issues since the summer.

File photo dated 03/03/21 of food laid out in crates at a food bank in north London. The cost of food is a
Food banks are struggling to cope with increased demand. (PA) (PA)

Who uses food banks? In the past six months, 320,000 people have been forced to turn to a food bank in the Trussell Trust's network for the first time, a 40% increase on 2021. Of the 1.3m emergency food parcels it provided between April and September, almost 500,000 went to children. Of those referred to a food bank, one in five are in working households, the charity said.

What will the situation be this winter? Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust, warned that a difficult winter lies ahead. She said: “These new statistics show that, even in summer months, people are struggling to afford the essentials and we are expecting that this winter will be the hardest yet for food banks and the people they support. This is not right. We know that with the right support and a stable and sufficient income, people don’t need to turn to food banks for support."

Demand for food banks has increased in the past five years. (Trussell Trust)
Demand for food banks has increased in the past five years. (Trussell Trust) (Trussell Trust)

What has happened in the past 10 years? The number of food parcels given out by food banks in the Trussell Trust network has steadily increased in the past decade. Up until 2014/15, it was distributing less than one million parcels per financial year, but since then the figure has not dropped below seven figures. In 2020/21, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, it was handing out 2.6m parcels per year, although that dropped to 2.1m in 2021/22.

The cost of living is soaring in the UK (Yahoo News UK/Flourish)
The cost of living is soaring in the UK (Yahoo News UK/Flourish)

What is driving the high demand for food banks? Inflation, the rate at which the cost of items increases, hasn't been this high in the UK since 1982. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was at 10.1% in September, with rising food prices overtaking energy as the biggest factor to the increase in inflation. Food inflation increased from 10.6% in September to 11.6% in October, the British Retail Consortium said at the beginning of this month. Tea bags, milk and sugar all saw significant price rises.

EMBARGOED TO 2301 SUNDAY OCTOBER 16 File photo dated 26/01/18 of a UK five pound, ten pound, twenty pound and fifty pound notes with one pound coins, as Governments across the world must increase benefits and wages in line with inflation or
Inflation has soared this year amid a cost of living crisis. (PA) (PA)

Who feels the worst effects of inflation? According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), poorer households suffer more when inflation soars. In August, it predicted that the poorest fifth of households would face an inflation rate of almost 18%, compared to 11% for the richest fifth of UK households. This is because poorer households spend more proportionately of their budgets on energy bills.

What has the prime minister said about food banks? On Monday, prime minister Rishi Sunak said the scale of food bank use in the UK is “obviously a tragedy”. He told ITV: “I’ve got enormous admiration and gratitude for the people who are providing them in my constituency and elsewhere as well. But I do of course want to get to a position where no one needs to use a food bank.”

What does the future hold? The Trussell Trust says short-term interventions by government are "neither sustainable nor dignified" for those people who are struggling, and won't solve the long-term problem of people relying on food banks. Earlier this month, after it raised interest rates by the greatest level since 1989, the Bank of England warned the UK is facing its longest recession since records began. It said the UK is facing a "very challenging" few years ahead, with unemployment predicted to almost double by 2025.