Food banks have said they will have to shrink the size of the parcels they give to struggling families owing to declining stock levels caused by the HGV crisis, supply shortages and a collapse in public donations.
A combination of declining food bank stocks and an expected explosion in demand for charity support after universal credit is cut this week has led some to prepare emergency measures to eke out food supplies further, including making parcels smaller and offering less variety.
Several reported they were already spending hundreds of pounds a month to replenish storerooms depleted by a fall-off in deliveries of surplus food from supermarkets and a big decrease in food donations from the public.
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A survey of 68 UK food banks carried out by the Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan) in mid-September and seen by the Guardian found two-thirds reporting food shortages and more than 80% anticipating running low on food stocks in the near future.
“Simply put, we are running out of some types of food because we can’t afford to buy them and they are not being donated any more,” a south-east London food bank reported.
Food banks are anticipating a big rise in the number of people who come to them for assistance over the coming months as a result of the end of the £20-a-week universal credit benefit from 6 October, the end of furlough and steep rises in energy bills.
FareShare, a food charity that normally handles 150 tonnes of supermarket surplus food a day, distributing it to charities and food banks, said bulk deliveries to its warehouses were down by a third because of HGV driver shortages.
It said it saw “no sign of things changing” and it has made an emergency call for volunteer hauliers “who are able to take on additional work”. Last year FareShare distributed 55,000 tonnes of surplus food, equivalent to 132m meals, to more than 10,000 UK charities.
“As a result of the issues facing the haulage industry we estimate that up to 30% of the food we would normally expect to receive into our warehouses on an average day is at risk of not reaching us, and therefore at risk of not reaching the vulnerable people we support,” said Lindsay Boswell, the chief executive of FareShare.
Ministers announced a £500m winter hardship fund last week but charities described it as a “temporary sticking plaster”. “The government is relying on food bank teams to cobble together reduced size emergency parcels and local authorities to stretch paltry sums as they attempt to fill an ever-widening gap,” said Sabine Goodwin, an Ifan co-ordinator.
Loaves and Fishes food bank in East Kilbride is gearing up for an estimated 50% rise in demand for charity food by Christmas. Public donations have shrunk in recent months, it says, as people “have less for themselves and less in their cupboards”.
A generous cash gift had helped ease the strain locally, said the manager Lesley Davidson, but supermarkets did not always let it buy food in the quantities it needs. “It keeps me awake at night because I have 100 families who rely on me,” she said.
The food bank has stopped buying tuna and tinned meat as it could not justify the expense and is considering reducing the amount of pot noodles, milk and coffee, she added. “We always try to give a very generous parcel, with a nod to good nutrition, but we are going to have to reduce the size of food parcels.”
Andy Thornton, of Harlow food bank in Essex, has seen a dip in individual food donations. It has six months of food reserves but is worried. “We are not despondent because we have money for a rainy day, but it is amazing how little £1,000 buys when you are feeding hundreds of people.”
Jane Calcutt, the manager at Kettering food bank, said it had had to buy in donation staples. “A year ago our storeroom was full of pasta and baked beans; I had to buy baked beans last week.”
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