Food bank users ‘asking for non-cook food because of energy cost fears’

·3-min read
Food banks have become essential for many   (PA Archive)
Food banks have become essential for many (PA Archive)

Food bank users are now requesting “non-cook food” after surging energy prices mean they “can’t afford to put the oven on”, organisations have warned.

The cost-of-living crisis has seen a rise in food bank users, as shop prices rose by a record 5.1% in August, according to the latest report by the British Retail Consortium.

This, combined with a huge surge in energy bills, has led to an “unsustainable situation”, Ian Oulton, a trustee of West Cheshire Foodbank, said.

Mr Oulton claimed the charity is seeing a 70% increase in use compared to pre-pandemic levels.

He told the PA news agency: “For the first time, we’re spending thousands of pounds on food to top up our supply – around 20%. This is an unsustainable situation for an independent charity.”

He added: “The majority of people coming here are working people. People with full-time jobs are now requesting non-cook food because people can’t afford to put the oven on.

“More and more are turning down fresh veg because they can’t afford to cook it. This is a disaster. What happens when it gets colder?”

Alongside a rise in people relying on food banks, figures show there has been a drop in donations.

A survey of independent food banks by The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) found that 72% of 73 organisations reported that food donation levels have dropped since April of this year, while more than half had needed to dip into reserves to pay for supplies.

Nearly 90% of 84 organisations said they saw demand rise since April this year, while 87% reported being hit by supply issues over the same period and one in five said they needed to reduce the size of their food parcels.

Spiralling prices have also seen more affluent shoppers rely on food banks, according to the manager of Earlsfield Foodbank.

Charlotte White said: “Over the last few months of working here I’ve witnessed people that used to be regular donors becoming users of the food bank.”

Labour MP Ian Byrne, who has been campaigning to tackle food insecurity said: “It’s a terrifying wake-up call for this nation when the food banks, which shame one of the richest countries in the world and should not exist, are now themselves running out of donations.

“Surely now is the time to say enough is enough and demand a right to food in legislation and systemic change to tackle the humanitarian crisis of poverty in our communities. The millions of children going hungry in our nation deserve nothing less.”

Volunteers are stressing that without “immediate intervention”, things are only going to get worse.

Ms White, who has worked at Earlsfield Foodbank for three years, said: “Breakfast cereal is now becoming a main meal because it doesn’t need to be cooked.

“We’re trying to provide people with fresh fruit and veg for nutrition, but they’re refusing it because they can’t afford to cook it. I can’t tell you how worrying it is.

“We are not equipped to deal with the gravity of this. There has to be immediate intervention before this gets worse.”