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Food banks in UK’s poorest areas left with empty shelves after government fails to identify areas in need


Food banks in some of the poorest parts of the UK are being left with empty shelves as the Government keeps no record of where support is most needed, experts have warned.

Areas in towns and cities such as Hull, Stoke-on-Trent and Redcar are seeing more than one in 10 adults experiencing hunger, according to research carried out by the Food Foundation last year.

However, government figures don’t currently include a record of the number of food banks in local areas or how many people are using them and only measure levels of food insecurity regionally.

Campaigners and academics have warned the situation means areas in dire need of support are in danger of falling through the cracks ahead of an autumn and winter set to be blighted by soaring food and energy prices.

Dr Megan Blake, from the University of Sheffield, worked on a project using data collected by the Food Foundation to create a national map of food insecurity, and warned the Government does not hold an accurate picture of the reality facing millions of families.

She told i: “What we saw is that regional distinctions didn’t make a whole lot of difference because each one of those regions has a mix of wealthy places where people are food security and places where people are not food secure.

“For example, in Yorkshire and the Humber, struggling areas can get drowned out by places like Harrogate and York.”

The Trussel Trust, which operates food banks across the UK, revealed that they had provided more than 2.1 million parcels to people facing financial hardship in the year to April 2022, a 14 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2019/20, before the pandemic.

What you can do to help your local food bank

There are many ways to help local food banks which are struggling under the cost of living crisis.

The Independent Food Aid Network supports independent food banks across the UK and also provides a helpful map of food banks registered with the network. Donating to the network itself or to a food bank in your area can help ensure they have adequate stocks.

Feeding Britain is a charity which works with over 600 local organisations, ranging from community centres and schools to local authorities to help distribute meals to vulnerable people on low incomes.

You can also sign-up to your local Trussel Trust newsletter, which will send out shopping lists of items they are running low on and you can always drop off any food you don’t need at food collection bins in your local supermarket.

Freida, a volunteer at the The Bridge food bank in Guisborough near Redcar, Teesside, said it was seeing its shelves emptied as demand soars.

She told i: “We rely on donations, at the moment they are starting to drop a bit. Our food bank is in a reasonably affluent area but there are poorer areas on the outskirts and we get most of our clients from there.

“At the moment with prices going up, donations are down but customers are up, we are getting more referrals coming in and I think that is going to increase this week with it being the first week of the school holidays.”

A survey from the Food Aid Network in May found that 93 per cent of independent food banks in the UK reported an increase or significant increase in services from the start of 2022.

A further 80 per cent of organisations also reported that they have struggled with food supply issues over the last four months and 78 per cent noticed a drop in food and financial donations.

Overall, 95 per cent of the food banks surveyed by the Food Aid Network attributed this directly to the cost of living crisis.

The Salvation Army’s Lieut-Colonel Dean Pallant said: “The cost of living crisis has also put our food banks under increasing pressure as more people are pushed into food poverty.

“We’ve had people coming to us crying because they can no longer afford to feed their families and before this crisis never imagined they would need our support to make ends meet.

“Though we have been tackling school holiday hunger for years, we expect to feed more children than ever this summer.

“The support provided over the school holidays by Government-backed schemes and the food vouchers distributed by local authorities will certainly bring some desperately needed relief, sadly these won’t be enough to ensure all children are being properly fed.”

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The cost of living crisis has driven more and more people towards food banks but the crisis has also meant increased operating costs, as well as fewer donations.

Professor Greta Defeyter, from Northumbria University, said: “It has had a tremendous impact, especially on the charitable support. Most people are talking about the impact on the household level and quite rightly so but of course, all of those organisations which are providing support to prop up the government’s response, all of those organisations are also under pressure.

“So a shortage of food or an increase in the cost of food impacts all the way down the chain to the organisations at the front line.”

She added: “In October we won’t be facing heat or eat, we’ll have no eat and no heat.”

The government does not hold detailed information on food security across the UK.

The government’s Family Resources Survey does contain details on food security at a regional level which showed in 2020 that around 10-11 per cent of households in the North East and North West suffer from food insecurity. However, the data is generally too broad to highlight specific areas of food poverty.

A new study from the University of Northumbria found that conventional measurements of poverty and deprivation don’t always correlate with levels of food security where local information and access to resources are just as important as having resources on offer.

Professor Paul Stretesky, who worked on the report with professor Defeyter, said: “Within local authorities, this data is super important because some services do exist and are networked and may have an impact on food insecurity in a ward but some wards may be absent of those resources so you need to be able to identify those locations if you want to do something about the problem.”

The lack of detailed information regarding food security in the UK doesn’t just pose problems for the national government but also local authorities which struggle to identify areas of their communities which are lacking help from the disparate range of organisations available to support people.

A government spokesperson said: “The UK has a highly resilient food supply chain, as demonstrated throughout the Covid-19 response.

“We recognise people are struggling with rising prices which is why we are protecting the eight million most vulnerable families with at least £1,200 of direct payments, starting with the £326 Cost of Living payment currently being distributed.”

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