Cost of living crisis: Edinburgh food banks warn rising costs will be 'insufferable for people'

As the energy price cap rockets by a staggering 54 per cent, Edinburgh food charities have described the prevailing cost of living crisis as “a perfect storm” that will be “insufferable for people.”

By Neil Johnstone
Saturday, 2nd April 2022, 4:55 am

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A surge in energy bills, soaring food prices, and social security payments struggling to compete with a 30-year high inflation rate, mean changes to expenditure will impact the majority of households and be debilitating for those who already struggle with payments, forcing some to become more reliant on food banks.

Ewan Aitken, chief executive of Cyrenians, which supplies food to over 170 organisations across Scotland and operate the Fareshare surplus food depot in Leith, told the Edinburgh Evening News: “Recently we’ve seen a 30 per cent increase in demand for emergency food which is enormous. We’re also seeing the people we support struggling more to budget.”

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The Fareshare Leith depot had its warehouse on Jane Street renovated in 2019, allowing the charity to reach an additional 2000 vulnerable people a week.

He added: “We’re aware that the people we support in tenancies are struggling. Although the fuel bill crisis hasn’t quite hit yet, there’s a sense of fear amongst people. I think we’re in a bit of a perfect storm unfortunately.”

The new price cap will put up energy costs on average by £700 and bills will be even higher for those who pay for fuel via prepayment methods, pushing even more into fuel poverty.

Michael Innes, head of operations at Granton-based food bank Empty Kitchens Full Hearts said: “We know that in April fuel bills are going to hit the roof. Even for people that are well off, that can be a significant change in circumstances. But for people who are on the breadline, who are actually people that pay the most for their energy, they’re going to get absolutely slapped in the face when this happens.”

He added: “That’s why we do what we do because if we can alleviate one of those problems when all the rest are going on then we at least know we’re doing a good thing.”

In the last ten years, Fareshare has worked with Tesco to deliver over 130 million meals from surplus food.

Bethany Bigger, director of the Edinburgh Food Project, which operates seven food banks in the capital explained that in recent weeks they have seen a 25 per cent increase in numbers of food parcels required from the previous week, but the full scale of the crisis will not be revealed immediately.

She said: “It’s never an overnight increase, it’s a slow burn. Because people try to figure it out themselves, with friends and family and credit cards, and that’s why it’ll take a little bit longer to really show.”

She added: “But we’re very much preparing for that increase to keep building. The cost of food and energy prices will start taking a toll on people and it’s going to become increasingly difficult for people to manage. And that’s when I think we’ll start to see quite significant increases coming through in the food banks.”

Throughout the UK, charities have identified a growing need for food bank services. The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) reported a 90 per cent noticeable or “significant” increase in demand for food parcels from data recorded last December.

Fareshare is the UK's longest running food redistribution charity.

The IFAN said: “Food banks reported that the reasons behind this were the cut to universal credit, the rising cost of food and energy as well as the end of the furlough scheme.”

Many organisations have spoken out against the Chancellor’s Spring Statement last month, stating that current benefit payments do not meet inflation rates and will fail to provide lower income households the lifeline they require.

Dave Innes, head of economics at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “We can’t build a strong or secure economy by weakening the incomes of the poorest. With benefits reaching their lowest level in real terms since 1985, the Chancellor had ample opportunity with his increased headroom to uprate them in line with inflation to protect those most at risk.”

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, described the real-terms cut to social security benefits as “dangerously insufficient”, adding, ““This decision will mean many more people will have no option but to use a food bank. By failing to make benefits payments realistic for the times we face, the government is risking turning the cost of living crisis into an emergency.”

She said: “Action to rectify this situation and strengthen our social security system needs to happen immediately.”

Bethany Bigger explains that products normally bought by the poorest households are jumping to astronomical levels: “If you look at your smart price or home brand items, the cheapest version that you get in the supermarket, some of the increases on those items are nearly 300 per cent. That’s insufferable for people.”

She added: “ It’s going to have a massive impact on people who are just getting by, it’s going to pull them into destitution without a doubt, and for people who are already accessing food banks it’s just going to make it impossible for them.

“The cost of living increase doesn’t match the real cost of living increase. Without giving them it, you’re saying it’s okay for people to be living in destitution.”

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