A food bank serving the London neighbours of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng has said it will struggle to survive this winter without “a torrent of support” for families who were going hungry.
Greenwich food bank said it had distributed 92,000 emergency meals to residents this year – already more than last year’s total – and that it was forecast to hit 130,000 by Christmas Day.
Demand for food is now so great in the borough that a new food bank is poised to open just 500 metres from the £1m Georgian houses where the prime minister and chancellor are neighbours.
Jamie Ginns, the chief executive of Greenwich food bank, said it faced “serious operational issues” this winter that would be compounded if Truss’s government refused to increase benefits in line with inflation.
He said: “For over a year now we’ve been hearing stuff in Greenwich about people choosing between heating or eating. I spoke to one guy pretty recently who was having to cook entirely off a camping gas stove in his kitchen.
“Even the phrase trickle-down economics: people don’t need a trickle, they need a torrent of support, times are that hard.”
Ginns said there were “pockets of real poverty” in the streets surrounding the smart Georgian terraces where Truss and Kwarteng live, part of the so-called Greenwich Gang, which includes the pro-Truss former Brexit secretary David Frost and foreign secretary James Cleverly.
A survey of 64 food banks across Britain, carried out by the donations platform Bankuet, found that almost all were facing soaring demand at a time of falling donations.
Three in four of those surveyed said they were busier or as busy now as they were at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, while 47% said they had already given out “cold packs” to people who cannot afford to use gas or electricity to heat food. All expected demand to rise further this winter.
Greenwich food bank, part of the Trussell Trust network, said it was distributing 4.5 tonnes of food a week – equivalent to the weight of two-and-a-half average-sized cars. The drop in donations meant it was having to raid its reserves to pay for one tonne’s worth of essentials every week.
Ginns said it would be “ludicrous” if Truss’s government refused to increase benefits in line with inflation. Ministers are said to be drawing up plans for real-terms benefits cuts, saving £5bn by increasing them in line with earnings, rather than with inflation.
Truss on Sunday refused to say whether benefits would be increased in line with inflation, recorded at 10% in August. During an interview on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Truss said the work and pensions secretary, Chloe Smith, is “looking at” the issue.
“She will make a determination on that and we will announce that this autumn,” Truss said, adding, “I’m not going to write future budgets on your show.”
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, one in five low-income households in Scotland went cold and hungry at the same time this year, even before the winter months set in.
Its latest Poverty in Scotland report highlighted the fragility of people’s finances and the impact of increasing anxieties about the future on mental health.
A third of all those surveyed said they have either no savings or savings of less than £250, while single parents were more than twice as likely to have little or no personal safety net.
The report also found that going without essentials – including food, heating or clothing – is already endemic. Nearly two in three (65%) have cut back on one essential while one in four (26%) have cut back on three or more essentials.
Jacqueline James, who runs a marketplace and food pantry as part of the charity Southampton City Mission, said it had already given out more food this year than in the whole of 2021.
She added: “A real-terms cut to benefits would compound the problem. People are already at a critical point of not having enough to cover costs as it is.
“We are quite concerned as food and funds are going down, particularly donations of food, as demand rises. We’ve been doing food banks for 20-odd years and our warehouse has never been this empty.”
Rebecca Hargreaves, project coordinator for Feedo Needo charity, which operates in Manchester, Birmingham and Bradford, said it was already having to hand out smaller emergency parcels.
She said: “Everyone is worried about their bills going up and that reality will hit soon. If benefits don’t rise as usual things are only going to get worse. We are seeing people with deteriorating mental health issues due to the cost of living stress which could be avoided.”
Robin Ferris, the chief executive of Bankuet, said charities were “sounding the alarm bell” as winter closes in and donations were desperately needed.
“Trickle-down economics from the government is an inadequate response to the cost of living crisis facing millions. Food banks are seeing unprecedented levels of demand and need our help to get through the winter,” Ferris said.