For many struggling families, elderly people and homeless people, Michelle Dornelly’s food center in east London has been a lifeline. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Britain, she’s been collecting leftover groceries from supermarkets and distributing them to people who can’t afford to buy food.
As the virus threat subsided, the need for food banks in Britain soared. Soaring energy and food bills are pushing millions into financial hardship, and food banks and community groups like Dornelly across the UK say they don’t have enough to feed the growing number of desperate people knocking on their doors.
“We struggle like this, but right now we are in a boiling pot. You freak people out,” she said, recently, while preparing turkey curry and onion bhajis to serve people. “Before, we could run until 4 p.m., but now at 2:30 p.m. there is no food.”
Dornelly offers free groceries and hot meals every week to dozens of regulars in Hackney, a central London borough with high rates of inequality: almost half of the children there live in poverty. Since the winter, at least 30 to 40 new people have been referred to her, she says.
The cost of food and fuel in the UK has risen sharply, with inflation hitting 9% in April, the highest in 40 years. In the same month, millions of families saw their annual energy bills jump by 54%, amounting to an additional 700 pounds ($863) per year on average for each household. Another rise in energy prices is expected in October as Russia’s war in Ukraine and the rebound in demand from the pandemic push up oil and natural gas prices.
Food companies have had to pass on higher costs to buyers, who already have less in their pockets because wages are not keeping up with price increases. People on low incomes and on social assistance have been hardest hit. In October, the British government stopped paying an additional 20 pounds ($25) a week allowance that had been introduced during the pandemic.
Other parts of the world are also struggling as inflation bites. Europe has seen a spike in consumer prices, prompting a sticker shock at the grocery store. In the United States, food banks say rising food and gas prices and headline inflation are intensifying demand for their support, while their labor and distribution costs rise and donations slow down.
“I guess that’s how life goes. But it shouldn’t go that drastic,” said Dave Anderson, one of Dornelly’s regulars.
The 62-year-old has been unable to work or care for himself since undergoing heart surgery and was left without electricity or gas at home until volunteers found him. The 118 pounds ($145) in benefits he receives every two weeks doesn’t go far.
“I haven’t even looked at my bills because I think I would like to sit there and cry,” Dornelly said. “I don’t understand why politicians allow this to happen.”
Things are expected to get worse in the coming months. The Bank of England predicts inflation could hit 10% by autumn, and its governor, Andrew Bailey, has warned of a “very real income shock” caused by energy prices and an “apocalyptic” rise in food prices due to the war in Ukraine.
A recent report from the International Monetary Fund said the UK is expected to be the slowest growing economy among the major Group of Seven democracies in 2023 as war delays the global economic recovery from the pandemic.
“All our organizations are contacting us saying, ‘We need more food’, more and more families are contacting us. The people we see have even less to make ends meet,” said Rachel Ledwith, community engagement manager at the Felix Project, a charity that redistributes surplus food from the food industry to around 1,000 charities. charities and schools across London.
He delivered enough packages to cook 30 million meals last year, and his kitchen produces thousands of meals – like broccoli stalk soup – every day. But it is far from enough.
“I think we’re seeing an increase in demand between 25% and 50% – so if an organization was supporting 50 people, they’re now seeing closer to 75,” Ledwith said. “It’s a real pressure – there’s still huge need there in London. We still have a waiting list of several hundred organizations who have requested food which we don’t yet have the capacity for. of taking charge.
The situation is similar across Britain.
The Trussell Trust, which runs more than half of all UK food banks, said last winter was the busiest outside of 2020 – the peak of the pandemic. The charity said its food banks provided more than 2.1 million food parcels in the UK in the past year, up 14% from the same period in 2019. Among those 830,000 were for children.
The Food Foundation, another charity, said a recent survey showed around one in seven adults said they or someone they lived with had skipped meals, eaten smaller portions or were hungry all day because they couldn’t afford to eat.
“The situation is rapidly changing from an economic crisis to a health crisis,” said Anne Taylor, director of the association. “The government needs to realize that the boat is sinking for many families and needs to be fixed. Bailing out with emergency food parcels will not work.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has been heavily criticized for not doing enough. Despite the cost of living crisis dominating political debates and the recent local elections, the government has not included any new support measures in its annual legislative programme.
Dornelly fears the crisis will really start to hit when children won’t have access to free meals during the summer holidays and later when it gets cold.
“What happens during summer vacation, when you have five screaming kids at home? You couldn’t afford to feed them anyway, so what are you going to do when the gas and electricity run out and you’re out of food? ” she says. “That’s when I think we’re going to see the peak.”