HEAT OR EAT: Food banks are busier than ever as food and energy prices increase

It seems the perfect storm as the cries of ‘Happy New Year’ fade rapidly into the memory amid a tide of rising prices and generally static wages.

By Tony Durkin
Thursday, 20th January 2022, 4:55 am

As food prices increase and household energy bills face a substantial rise, the challenge of making ends meet is becoming ever more challenging.

The scale of that challenge is reflected in substantially increased activity at food banks, which report seeing new faces in ever greater number availing themselves of their services.

With the financial concerns of the pandemic already hitting families hard, Fylde Foodbank, which out outlets in St Annes, Kirkham and Warton, reported a 27 per cent increase in demand in its most recent report

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Members of the team at Fylde Food Bank in St Annes

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Since then, the extra £20 a week made available by the Government to Universal Credit recipients has ben withdrawn and after the extra financial demands of Christmas, come the rising prices.

“It’s an unprecedented time for demand on food banks and we are seeing more new faces all the time,” said Councillor Linda Nulty, co-ordinator of the Fylde Foodbank at Kirkham.

“The figures went up notably during the pandemic but the Universal Credit cut brought a spike after that ahead of Christmas and we have seen substantially increased demand since then - not quite double but not far off.

“The rate of donations of items to Fylde Foodbank has always been wonderful and we are so grateful for everyone’s generosity, but more and more we are having to go out and but essential items which are part of the parcels we give out.

“It’s a concerning situation and I fear there is worse to come as the increasing energy prices really hit families. We are already hearing from many who are struggling.”

The increase in demand is reflected in a recent move for Blackpool Food Bank, which provides supplies for various agencies serving those in need in the resort rather than the public visiting its own site.

After starting out at founder Neil Reid’s home 10 years ago and then being based for several years in Dickson Road, it has relocated to a much bigger site on the Whitehills Business Park.

Blackpool Food Bank chairman Neil Reid

“There are more demands on our services than ever before – and we have to be prepared to be in this situation for the long haul,” said Neil.

“The pandemic, change of job circumstances for many, rising prices and imminent energy price increases have brought a challenge which I think will apply for quite some time to come.

“In society these days, many families are just a week, a month or a few months away from substantial financial problems if a curve ball hits, and with the pandemic and all that has also been happening recently, it has been one curve ball after another for many.”

The Kirkham branch of Fylde Food Bank is within the Citizens Advice Bureau in Moor Street and in a bid to help families tackle the challenge of rising energy prices, each food parcel given out now contains a light bulb and details of how to obtain advice about the energy situation.

“It is important to have a coordinated approach,” added Linda. “Tighter demands on finance lead to more people turning to the food banks. It has been a case of everything coming together – the pandemic, Brexit – and the solution has to be a political one, but it is vital we help people as best we can.”

The Fylde Food Bank is part of the Trussell Trust, a charity which covers more than 1,000 food banks across the UK, each with their own budget.

Each parcel given out contains essentials such as milk, vegetables, cereal, tea or coffee and tinned goods.

Fylde outlets at St Annes (Tuesday and Thursday) and Kirkham (Monday and Friday) are open two days a week, with an outlet also at Warton on Wednesdays, but Linda says there is also an emergency contact number to ensure everyone in need always has someone to turn to.

To add to the challenge for the Food Banks, many older volunteers were unable to participate in its activities during the pandemic, as its outlets continued open to meet demand, and many haven’t returned.

“So new volunteers are always welcome,” said Linda.

The Trussell Trust network’s most recently-published figures show that on average its outlets provided more than 5,000 emergency food parcels to people across the UK every day between April and September last year.

Almost 2,000 of those were provided for children – and 11 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2019, while over five years there has been a 74 per cent increase.

Kim Cook, chairman of Trustees of Fylde Food Bank said: “It’s not right that people in our community are needing a charity’s help to put food on the table.

“Everyone in Fylde should be able to afford the essentials – and we know our figures are just the tip of the iceberg as different community organisations, independent food banks and local authorities have also been working during the pandemic to support our community.

“We’re always blown away by the amount of support and generosity local people show in supporting our work – our vital work has only been possible because of that incredible support. Thank you so much.

“While our help continues to be needed, we’re dedicated to ensuring that people without enough money for food are able to access emergency support – because we don’t think it’s right that any of us are forced to turn to any charity for emergency food.

“That’s why we’re proud to be working alongside other foodbanks in the Trussell Trust’s network to push for the long-term changes we need to reach a future where everyone has enough money for the essentials.”

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