Charities press government to address food bank crisis

“Like a tidal wave gathering pace, an economic crisis is sweeping towards us – but we don’t all have lifeboats.” Charities are pressing the government to provide Emergency Income Support for those struggling to feed themselves and their families during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Non perishable foods donated in Birmingham
Non perishable foods donated in Birmingham

Flickr / Birmingham City Council / cc-by-2.0

Olivia Rutherford

An anti-poverty coalition of charities has urged the government to help the financially vulnerable stay afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic as food bank use rises dramatically.

The joint letter (29 April) addressed to Chancellor Rishi Sunak expresses the coalition’s concern at the increase in people turning to food banks during the coronavirus crisis.

The charities forming the coalition include: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), Children’s Society, Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), StepChange and Turn2us.

The letter calls on the government to deliver a temporary Coronavirus Emergency Income Support Scheme, stressing that the ‘social security system must be proactively strengthened as much as possible during this immediate crisis period’.

The food bank network Trussell Trust has reported an 81 per cent increase for emergency parcels from food banks in its networks for the last two weeks of March 2020, including 122 per cent more emergency food parcels going to children.

The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) claims the numbers of those accessing food banks is 17 times higher than this time last year. And a recent survey conducted by the charity Turn2us found that one in every eight people cannot afford enough food to feed themselves.

The letter states this increase ‘highlights how threadbare the existing lifeline is for people who are desperately holding on, and how rapidly their situation can change from just managing to needing to turn to a food bank’.  

The coalition presses for measures such as:

  • Increasing benefits that go to families to help with the costs of raising children;

  • Extending the suspension of benefit deductions to cover advance payments – these are often taken to cover the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment;

  • Lifting the benefit cap and two-child policy to ensure this support scheme benefits everyone; and

  • Ensuring local authorities in England can provide effective crisis support to individuals and families.

Commenting on the growing need for government support, Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust Emma Revie said: “Like a tidal wave gathering pace, an economic crisis is sweeping towards us – but we don’t all have lifeboats. It’s not right that this has meant some of us don’t have enough money for essentials and are being pushed to food banks. 

“Now is the time to build on the foundations our government has laid. We need emergency measures to ensure people can make ends meet during this crisis.”

Reflecting on the children who are impacted by financial fallout of the pandemic, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said: “Today’s figures show we need targeted support for children if we are to shield them from poverty. 

“Raising the level of all benefits for children would be the most effective way of getting support to families quickly. It’s our moral responsibility to make that investment – because no child should be reliant on charitable food packages.”