We need Government action to avoid record need for food banks this winter

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By Rory Weal, Policy & Public Affairs Manager

We can avoid the prospect of record need for food banks this winter – but only if the Government acts now.

Last week the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, unveiled his ‘Winter Economy Plan’, designed to prepared the economy for the coming economic storm. This mini budget announced a range of measures, including a replacement for the furlough scheme – a new ‘jobs support scheme’ to subsidise the wages of people in work. Clearly, this is needed and welcome. But it begs the question – what about the millions of people who have already lost work or will do so over the coming months?

Food banks in the Trussell Trust network are seeing first-hand the impact the crisis is having on people in this position. Unfortunately, without further action it is set to get worse before it gets better. Last month we published projections which forecast there will be a 61% rise in need for food banks over the winter compared to the same period last year. Based on an initial assessment by Heriot-Watt University, the latest steps announced by the Chancellor are not enough to alter this forecast. This leaves food banks in the Trussell Trust network faced with the huge task of giving out six food parcels every minute over the winter.

This isn’t right. No one should be need to use a food bank. Many of these people are likely to be using a food bank for the first time, and they are also more likely to be facing additional challenges. Our recent survey findings show almost three quarters of those who used a Trussell Trust food bank during the summer reported they or someone they lived with having a mental health problem, up from half before the pandemic. We are all living with the uncertainty of what the future holds, but for those needing to use food banks that burden weighs particularly heavy.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. There is still time for the Government to make the changes necessary to stop people being swept into poverty. We have recently provided a submission to the Treasury on the steps the Government should take to avert hardship now and in the coming months, which you can read in full here. As we face the prospect of a second wave of Covid-19, we need to draw on the determination we saw back in March and April to provide people with the lifelines they need to weather this economic storm. This means ensuring everyone has the money they need for the essentials, so that no one needs to use a food bank.

Our proposals are built on measures already taken by the Government – measures which can be implemented quickly and will make a real difference. Our three proposals are:

  • Protect people’s incomes by locking in the £20 uplift to Universal Credit and extending to legacy benefits. Our recent research shows removing the £20 uplift next spring would lead to a 10% rise in need for food banks. The uplift must be locked in as soon as possible, and extended to legacy benefits such as Employment Support Allowance.
  • Help people hold on to more of their benefits by suspending benefit debt deductions. This was done swiftly for some deductions back in April and needs to be repeated now. This time, Advance Payments must be included in the suspension, as our survey data shows three quarters of people arriving at food banks on Universal Credit are repaying advances to cover the five-week wait.
  • Make local safety nets as strong as possible by investing £250 million in local welfare assistance in England. Local welfare administered by councils can provide a lifeline for those who fall through the gaps in national provision. The Government invested £63 million in this provision in the summer, but the funding is set to end later this month. As we enter a phase of local lockdowns, this flexible provision to provide cash grants and in-kind benefits is needed now more than ever.

We know these measures can be introduced swiftly, as they have been done before. We can still avoid a huge rise in need for food banks this winter – but only if we see fast action from the Government to provide the lifelines we all need.