Independent food banks are “desperately worried” about how they will continue to operate amid soaring demand and “alarming” inflation figures.
People unable to afford essentials are increasingly asking for food they do not need to cook or refrigerate because of rising energy prices, the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) said.
This includes a growing cohort of first-time food bank users, people who are struggling while in work, and an increasing number of children.
A survey of more than 100 members found that the vast majority have experienced a rise in demand since the start of the year, while also struggling with food supply issues.
On Wednesday, figures from the Office for National Statistics showed inflation soaring to a 40-year high, reaching 9% in the year to April.
IFAN, which represents more than 550 food aid providers across the UK, said the situation “is becoming more alarming by the day” and members are “running out of options”.
IFAN coordinator Sabine Goodwin said: “Today’s alarming inflation figures will inevitably mean that the numbers of people seeking the support of food banks will rise yet further.
“Independent food banks are already struggling to cope and are desperately worried about how they can possibly continue to operate as poverty levels spiral out of control.”
She said the Government must immediately boost the incomes of people who cannot afford food and other essentials, and increase benefits so they are in line with inflation.
Some 101 IFAN members running 194 food banks across 94 local authority areas in the UK took part in the survey from May 4 to May 9.
It found that 93% reported a rise or significant rise in demand this year, while 80% have struggled with food supply issues.
More than three-quarters (78%) saw a drop in food or financial donations and half have had to dip into their reserves to pay for food or vouchers.
Some 95% said this was down to the cost-of-living crisis.
Today's alarming inflation figures will inevitably mean that the numbers of people seeking the support of food banks will rise yet further. Independent food banks are already struggling to cope and are desperately worried about how they can possibly continue to operate as poverty levels spiral out of control.
IFAN coordinator Sabine Goodwin
IFAN said food banks have seen “particularly dramatic” increases in need dating back to Autumn 2021, which includes people who had got back on their feet due to the temporary £20 uplift in Universal Credit payments, but can no longer manage since it was taken away.
Multiple IFAN members said need for their services has doubled between April 2021 and April 2022.
Kate Brewster, from IFAN member One Can Trust, in Buckinghamshire, said: “We’re seeing the highest sustained level of demand in our 10-year history.
“We’re supporting hundreds of people with heart-breaking stories, and we know that having to exist like this affects mental health for many. It’s an appalling state of affairs.”
Charlotte White, from Earlsfield Foodbank in Wandsworth, south west London, said: “We are having to compromise more and more, and we are deeply concerned about what the future holds for all concerned.
“More than ever, we are seeing people who are in work struggling to afford food.”
Emma Greenough, from The Welcome Centre, in Huddersfield, said the number of children being supported has more than doubled compared to before the coronavirus pandemic.
She said these are children who are “genuinely are going without because their families can’t put food on the table”.
“And we all know how this can affect a child’s mental health, ability to learn and future prospects,” she added.
A Government spokesman said: “We recognise the pressures on the cost of living and we are doing what we can to help, including spending £22 billion across the next financial year to support people with energy bills and cut fuel duty.
“For the hardest hit, we’re putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families on Universal Credit, have also boosted the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and our Household Support Fund is there to help with the cost of everyday essentials.”