Charities told The Independent they are worried the squeeze in the food supply means they may be forced to turn hungry families away in the months ahead.
A survey carried out by the Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan) found 66 per cent of food banks have seen an increase in the need for help over the past few weeks, as the £20-a-week cut in universal credit hits home.
The mid-October survey, shared with The Independent, showed 63 per cent of food banks have also experienced problems with stock due to the supply chain crisis.
Some 45 per cent of food bank managers in the network said they would have to consider reducing the size of their food parcels – or even turning away new people coming to them for help.
William McGranaghan, who runs Dad’s House food bank in London’s West Brompton area, said demand for food parcels has shot up from around 250 to 400 households in the past few weeks.
“It’s dire out there,” he said. “The universal credit cut is a nightmare, because £86 a month is a lot. It’s pushed people into trouble quickly. And it’s happening as we’re seeing the squeeze on supply. We rely on donations at supermarkets and the big surplus charities and they just don’t have as much to give us.”
McGranaghan added: “I fear we’re going to be struggling to get enough in the next couple of months and some of our own shelves will be empty. I’m not looking forward to telling people, ‘Sorry – we don’t have any food’. It could be heartbreaking.”
FareShare – a national charity that distributes surplus stock to food banks and charities across Britain – said bulk deliveries into its warehouses were down by 30 per cent, simply because the HGV drivers are not available to bring it from supermarkets and other food businesses.
Spokesperson Lindsay Boswell said: “It’s a crisis which has hit the whole food sector. The supply of surplus food FareShare gets is really being squeezed, and as a result not as much food is reaching the vulnerable people we support as there could be. We need support to get more surplus food into the system quickly, rather than it go to waste.”
Food banks are also reporting reductions in individual donations of food and cash, as many people across the country feel the pinch from rising living costs.
Tina Harrison, who runs the Trinity Foodbank from a church hall in Bury, said her team was already having to be reduce food parcels to “the very basics”. They normally have a few weeks’ worth of stock, but supply problems mean they are now planning “week to week”.
Harrison said: “Some days we’re thinking, ‘How will be have enough to get through next week?’ Some families have asked whether there will be enough food. Some have told us they’re wondering whether they’ll have to turn their heating off.”
The Bury food bank gives out around 85 food packages a week – up from 70 a few weeks ago – and Harrison is expecting demand to keep rising in the weeks ahead. “It’s going to be a hard. The cut to universal credit is happening at a time when energy bills and other living costs are going up. This winter really worries me.”
Penny Keevil, manager at Second Chance Medway in Kent, said the crisis support charity usually have three months’ worth of food, but it has dwindled to just one months’ supply. Her team is also seeing an extra 20 to 25 new people each week in October.
As well as the cut to the universal credit uplift introduced at the start of the pandemic, some working locally in the hospitality industry have seen hours cut and been pushed onto zero-hours contracts since the end of the furlough scheme.
“There’s a lot of anxiety – untold pressure on people,” said Keevil. “We’ll do our best to help everyone we possibly can, but I’m get really worried about having enough food.”
Sabine Goodwin, coordinator of Ifan, made up of over more than 500 independent food banks, said: “Food banks in our network are already seeing the impact of the cut to universal credit, cost of living increases and the end of the furlough scheme while struggling to access the supplies they need for food parcels.”
She said it was “essential” that cuts to universal credit and working tax credit were reversed and the government addresses the underlying problems of low pay.
“Expecting food banks to pick up the pieces with unsustainable food supplies won’t address the underlying problem of poverty and risks food bank volunteers being put in the impossible position of having to turn people needing help away,” Goodwin added.
UK government ministers have praised food banks operators, with work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey previously describing them as the “perfect way” to help the poorest and most vulnerable.
However, the Scottish government has recognised the underlying problem of low household incomes, publishing a draft plan to “end the need for food banks” earlier this week.
Social justice secretary Shona Robison said: “We share the same vision as food bank operators – they are not a long-term solution to poverty.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “We know the best route towards financial independence is through well-paid work, which is why our multibillion pound plan for jobs is helping boost skills and opportunity, while universal credit continues to provide a vital safety net for millions.
“The Household Support Fund is helping the most vulnerable with essential costs through this winter, and is distributed by councils, who are best placed to ensure those in need in their local areas can be identified and supported as soon as possible.”
The Independent’s Help the Hungry campaign, run in partnership with the The Evening Standard, helped raise over £10m for Britons struggling to access food during the pandemic.