Food bank users are now asking for “non-cook food” because they are struggling to afford their soaring energy bills, with some families choosing cereal as an evening meal because it doesn’t need heating up.
The cost of living crisis has seen a rise in food bank users as shop prices rose by a record 5.1 per cent last month, according to the latest report by the British Retail Consortium.
This, coupled with a stark surge in energy bills, has led to an “unsustainable situation”, Ian Oulton, a trustee of West Cheshire Foodbank, said.
Mr Oulton claimed the charity is seeing a 70 per cent increase in use compared to pre-pandemic levels, but despite being given food many can’t afford to heat it at home.
“For the first time, we’re spending thousands of pounds on food to top up our supply – around 20 per cent. This is an unsustainable situation for an independent charity,” he told PA.
“The majority of people coming here are working people. People with full-time jobs are now requesting non-cook food because people can’t afford to put the oven on.
“More and more are turning down fresh veg because they can’t afford to cook it. This is a disaster. What happens when it gets colder?”
Food banks are also seeing a drop in donations as people struggle with increased prices.
Nearly 90 per cent of 84 organisations surveyed by The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) said they saw demand rise since April this year, while 72 per cent of 73 organisations reported that food donation levels have dropped since April of this year.
The survey also found 87 per cent reported being hit by supply issues over the same period, and one in five said they needed to reduce the size of their food parcels.
Spiralling prices have also seen more affluent shoppers rely on food banks, according to the manager of Earlsfield Foodbank in London.
“Over the last few months of working here I’ve witnessed people that used to be regular donors becoming users of the food bank,” said Charlotte White, who has worked at Earlsfield Foodbank for three years.
“Breakfast cereal is now becoming a main meal because it doesn’t need to be cooked.
“We’re trying to provide people with fresh fruit and veg for nutrition, but they’re refusing it because they can’t afford to cook it. I can’t tell you how worrying it is.
“We are not equipped to deal with the gravity of this. There has to be immediate intervention before this gets worse.”
Labour MP Ian Byrne, who has been campaigning to tackle food insecurity said: “It’s a terrifying wake-up call for this nation when the food banks, which shame one of the richest countries in the world and should not exist, are now themselves running out of donations.
“Surely now is the time to say enough is enough and demand a right to food in legislation and systemic change to tackle the humanitarian crisis of poverty in our communities. The millions of children going hungry in our nation deserve nothing less.”