In Brighton, listen to the voices of hungry people

Forty-four community organisations call for urgent action on food poverty as demand for their services soars

A man with mask stands in the middle of a food bank, sorting out bags of food for struggling families.
Food banks have grown to meet demand, but the cost of living crisis is beginning to overwhelm them. Photo credit: Aaron Doucett / Unsplash

The cost of living crisis has seen a surge in the numbers of people using food banks everywhere – but even before the current emergency, the need for food support was growing year on year.  Alarmed by the increase and anxious that they might not have the resources to meet demand, 44 community food groups in Brighton and Hove urged Chancellor Sunak in his spring budget to take 12 key steps to address hunger in the city.

The overall aim should be to increase household incomes, wrote Brighton & Hove Emergency Food Network. To achieve this they urged him to raise benefits by at least 7 per cent to reflect the true level of inflation, rather than the 3.1 percent proposed, and to reinstate the withdrawn £20 uplift to Universal Credit.

Partnership director Vic Borrill, said: “Every day volunteers working in food banks and other food aid initiatives are seeing people of all ages and backgrounds at risk of malnutrition, homelessness, poor educational attainment, and mental and physical health breakdown – all for want of a decent household income.”

Explosion in weekly food demand

The number of meals and food parcels delivered by the 44 groups in the network has leapt by more than 12-fold in the past nine years. From just six organisations in the city, providing 220 weekly parcels in 2013, the number had grown to 37 by 2021, supplying 5,870 people with 1,430 parcels and 2,650 meals weekly.

“This is not sustainable”, said Borrill, “and the situation is desperate. The voices of hungry people need to be heard and the government must do more to help”.

Two women fill open paper bags with food.
Food banks are at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis. Photo credit: Ismael Paramo-Cns0h / Unsplash

The Emergency Food Network believed the wide swathe of hunger now affecting people in the UK as a result of low benefits levels and low and insecure incomes is not visible to those in power. As Borrill explains, “It is not just one group experiencing poverty today. The government needs to see the bigger picture”. 

Even more disturbing, the New Economics Foundation has calculated that by May this year as many as 34.2 percent of the population nationally will be classified as enduring a socially unacceptable standard of living. 

“Stress levels are high … it’s a feeling of never having enough”

What that means in real terms is described by Reyno, from the Old Boat Community Centre. “The stress levels of families and individuals are so high. The feeling of always having to compensate and never having enough and not have the basic feeling that everyone should have of feeling fed, safe and warm in their own home.”

An increase in national insurance contributions on top of rising fuel, housing and food prices means that for many, the situation is only going to get worse. In their call to government to respond to the cost of living crisis, Brighton and Hove Food Partnership say that for many people living in the city the choice is no longer between heating and eating. “We are now in the situation where people can’t afford to do either as benefit levels or low/insecure wages do not meet household living costs. We in the community sector cannot continue to be the only line of defence in preventing people from experiencing malnutrition.”  

Call for look at role of food banks

In the absence of any provisions in the spring budget to support families living in food poverty, the network is calling for a full enquiry into the role that food banks and other forms of food aid now have in the UK in plugging gaps in the welfare state.

This informal safety net is under increasing stress and at great risk of failing. As Rachel from BrightStore says:

“We are all really, really, really tired. We have all put our entire hearts and souls and guts and muscles into trying to make this work.

“This is a heartbreaking situation for everybody. We have got really vulnerable people relying on us and we have to do the right thing for them.”

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