Thousands flock to food banks as prices rise and pound falls

New Conservative Party leader and incoming prime minister Liz Truss.

UK prime minister Liz Truss. The situation in UK took a turn for the worse last Monday after a mini-budget was announced by Kwasi Kwarteng, chancellor of the Exchequer in the new government of Prime Minister Liz Truss.

Photo credit: Daniel Leal | AFP

What you need to know:

  • For thousands of people, their local food bank – there are now more than 2,000 of them across the United Kingdom — provides emergency help during the worst cost of living crisis for decades.
  • The steep rise in fuel prices caused by the war in Ukraine, coupled with soaring inflation, has forced many families to choose between warm homes or food on the table, that is, as everyone says, between heating and eating.
  • The situation took a turn for the worse last Monday after a mini-budget was announced by Kwasi Kwarteng, chancellor of the Exchequer in the new government of Prime Minister Liz Truss.

The message was signed “Jean Todd” and volunteers said it was typical:

“I was just wondering if I would be entitled to any of the food banks, as I am struggling so, so much now. I work part-time and my son is on a jobseeker’s (allowance). I pay full rent of 400 (pounds) per month, full council tax of 112 (pounds) per month, and now my payday has changed from the 23rd of every month to the 31st of every month. On top of all my bills and food, I can’t cope with this. Thanks.”

The people who received this appeal from a working mother obviously in desperate straits while trying to maintain her dignity guided her to her nearest food bank, where she could get free or very cheap meals.

For thousands of people, their local food bank – there are now more than 2,000 of them across the United Kingdom — provides emergency help during the worst cost of living crisis for decades.

The steep rise in fuel prices caused by the war in Ukraine, coupled with soaring inflation, has forced many families to choose between warm homes or food on the table, that is, as everyone says, between heating and eating.

Tax cuts

The situation took a turn for the worse last Monday after a mini-budget was announced by Kwasi Kwarteng, chancellor of the Exchequer in the new government of Prime Minister Liz Truss.

Mr Kwarteng announced large tax cuts aimed at stimulating growth, to be paid for by borrowing billions of pounds.

This approach worried the international markets and resulted in the pound sterling tumbling to its lowest-ever level against the dollar of $1.04.

When the pound is worth less, the cost of goods from abroad, which are mostly priced in dollars, goes up, affecting importantly oil and gas, but also food, because Britain imports 46 per cent of what it eats and drinks from abroad.

Hence the growth of food banks, which were virtually unheard of 30 years ago. The majority of them are supported by the Trussell Trust, founded by a family legacy in 1997; others are run by local councils, churches of all denominations, the Salvation Army, which has been operating soup kitchens for many years, some Muslim groups, and independent volunteers, such as the Fans of Newcastle United Football Club, who operate a food bank outside the club’s ground, St James’s Park.

The assistance food banks offer varies, but the basic package, which Jean Todd would receive, would consist of nutritionally balanced comestibles to last an average family three days.

Regular items are breakfast cereals, tinned soups, pasta, rice, tinned meat, fruit and vegetables, biscuits, milk, tea or coffee. There might also be toiletries and baby items, if necessary.

The parcel would be free or available at minimal cost, or supermarket vouchers might be provided as alternatives.

Some banks are free to all comers, others require a referral from a doctor, school or social worker. A friend who volunteers for a London food bank says she has noted an increase in customers, week by week, including some who are in employment but still need help.

Her husband’s church does a Saturday evening sandwich run for homeless people in central London; it receives donations of bread from a local baker.

My own church makes periodic appeals for food, invariably including pleas for tins of ham and corned beef, as well as soups – bot NOT tomato. Don’t ask me!

Many grocery shops give excess items to their nearest food bank and most supermarkets place baskets at their exits where customers can drop items they have just purchased.

It is heartening to see the generosity of so many people in feeding hungry families, but at the same time shaming that it should be necessary for this year of Our Lord of 2022.

* * *

Perhaps this is not the time or place for this quirky news item, but I cannot resist reporting that babies in the womb react to what their mothers eat.

Durham University scientists who conducted 4D scans of 100 pregnant women discovered that when their mothers ate carrots, the babies smiled, but green vegetables made them cringe.

* * *

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