Every year, Brighton and Hove Food Partnership (BHFP) carries out a survey to show the status of food bank use in the city. The survey is a snapshot, taken from one week in July 2023.
This year’s Emergency Food Network (EFN) annual survey shows over 6,440 people in the city rely on emergency food services every week – an increase of 25 per cent from 2022. Worryingly, 1,880 or around 1 in 3 were children, a rise of 28 per cent on 2022. The survey also showed that two-thirds of people return for food help week-in week-out because of ongoing need, an increase from just over half in 2022.
In addition, the continuing cost-of-living crisis is creating a new demand for emergency food from people in work and students. These add to the vulnerable groups, such as elderly people, those experiencing ill health, disability and mental health issues, and refugees and asylum seekers.
Food banks are running out of money
In 2013, there were only six food banks in Brighton. The number of food projects has risen annually since then to over 50. Many opened in rapid response to the pandemic, particularly to deliver to the housebound. However, the number of food banks is higher than that during the pandemic, which shows that they are becoming a ‘normalised’ part of our society.
With food costs rising and donations falling, the city’s food providers are spending a total of £15,800 each week to top-up dwindling stock levels, up 59 per cent from last year. This level of expenditure is unsustainable and some food banks are already having to pause new referrals or reduce the amount of food they can offer. Almost half the city’s emergency food providers report not having enough money for the year ahead.
More referrals but fewer donations
One food project worker said:
“If we don’t take on new referrals the money might take us to December. Unfortunately, we are getting more referrals and these are families with children which I find difficult to turn down.”
Food banks and other emergency food providers are having to shrink the food parcels they offer and many worry that they will have to close in the next six months if funding doesn’t increase as demand outstrips supply.
Just over half of these suppliers said food and/or financial donation levels have dropped, with a quarter reporting that stock levels were significantly down. 23 providers reported having to dip into financial reserves. The survey showed cooking oil, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, and eggs to be in particularly high demand.
Case study: Scarlet
Scarlet* (not her real name) arrived in Brighton to study, but she hit problems when her low-income family found they were unable to provide the financial support they had hoped. Less than a year into her university course, she found herself in financial difficulties, without enough money to pay for her food.
She found herself work as a care provider, but the zero-hours contract she ended up on resulted in very little paid employment each day.
Hungry and worried that she would lose her rented accommodation, Scarlet turned to the Brighton & Hove Food Partnership enquiries team, who directed her toward the Real Junk Food Project Bevendean Food Hub, which stocks surplus food that anyone can take, paying whatever they can afford. The food networks were able to provide her with emergency food provision, and a food voucher that enabled her to manage until her student loan came through.
Scarlet said: “I called my mum afterwards and I didn’t tell her because I was so ashamed of how the situation had panned out, but I said there are really people looking out for all of us.”
Food poverty – the ‘new normal’?
To try and help the food network providers through the difficult winter period, BHFP has set up the Food SOS Harvest Festival campaign and is asking schools and businesses in the city to coordinate donations to food banks, charities and social supermarkets in their area.
Food projects have asked BHFP to campaign for more support from local and national government. Importantly, they would like to see an end to food insecurity becoming the new normal.
Ali Ghanimi, senior manager for BHFP, said:
“Food poverty in Brighton is becoming the new normal and that is simply unacceptable. The level of expenditure EFN members are enduring is unsustainable. National and local governments, employers and educational bodies all need to wake up, face their responsibilities and take action now.”
* The name of this student beneficiary has been changed to preserve privacy.
To find out more about Scarlet’s story and read the survey findings in full: https://bhfood.org.uk/efn-report-2023/
For further information: contact Vanessa O’Shea, Manager, Community Food Team. Email: [email protected]