The UK has been experiencing a cost of living crisis since late 2021. During this time the cost of everyday essentials such as food and bills has increased more quickly than the average household income.
In December 2023 the Office for National Statistics (ONS), published the latest figures on the cost of living and these can be found in full here. The data shows that both food and energy prices have been rising markedly over the past year. This has partly been in response to the conflict in Ukraine and the continuing impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on prices.
These stark figures can only give a clinical perspective of the crisis and as such cannot tell of the wider impact the current situation is having on the day to day lives of the population. Whilst this crisis affects us all, and we each make our own adjustments to household budgets, people on lower incomes are disproportionately impacted. This impact is felt not only through price rises but also through benefit sanctions and deductions, and unique factors that affect working families as well as refugees and asylum seekers.
Churches and community groups across the Diocese continue to step up and offer practical support in many ways such as running Places of Welcome, community markets and fridges, and most recently through offering cookery classes where participants can learn to cook and then share a meal together.
This change in focus away from the ‘sticking plaster’ approach of food banks and emergency food provision has been seen across partner organisations too such as Feeding Britain. National Director, Andrew Forsey has told CTD that across the Feeding Britain network this shift has enabled many more households than before to access provision which preserves (and often improves) their sense of choice, dignity, and autonomy – saving them just enough money on a broad enough range of items, so as to prevent their having to use, or becoming dependent upon, food banks.
Throughout 2024, Feeding Britain will be allocating resources, facilitating the exchange of knowledge and best practice, and advocating reforms in an attempt to cement that shift, ‘from food bank to food club’, as part of a multi-layered strategy to ensure everyone in the communities they serve can access and afford food and other essentials without having to use a food bank.
To do this they will be focusing on a number of key themes throughout the coming year and these include:
Engineering a major shift ‘from food bank to food club’ –helping households, grassroots organisations, and whole communities move away from dependence on emergency food provision to more sustainable ‘food club’ models such as pantries and social supermarkets, which offer a dignity of choice and purchase as well as holistic wraparound support.
Nurturing and reforming the ‘food club’ model – While continuing to expand the reach and coverage of ‘food club’ provision, to also take additional steps to enhance both the supply of food for, and financial sustainability of, this model. Many ‘food clubs’ are reforming their membership and pricing structures, while other regional and local partnerships have begun piloting collective purchasing and warehousing arrangements in an attempt to diversify their supply of food. There is a particular focus on accessing nutritious products, and items that meet cultural and dietary requirements.
Co-locating services with community food provision – Highlighting the importance of wraparound support within community food provision as a means of providing pathways out of acute or chronic food insecurity. This includes debt advice, support with benefits and welfare, employment rights, housing support, access to Credit Union services, cooking and growing activities, communal eating, volunteering opportunities, holiday programmes and social activities. Looking to engage a broader range of services to offer wraparound support, given both the complexity of need as well as funding constraints.
In response to these key themes, Feeding Britain will also be:
Expanding a pilot exercise through which a regular and varied supply of core non-surplus goods can be ordered in bulk, at reasonable prices, for groups of ‘food clubs’ wishing to develop collective purchasing arrangements.
Working to secure the funding that is required to commission the appropriate range of services within food projects that currently lack those services and have identified a specific need for them.
Advocating reforms which address the drivers of need and demand by engaging with parliamentarians and government departments on Feeding Britain’s proposed reform programme, which includes: proactive public services which automatically register all eligible families for their Healthy Start and free school meal entitlements, and ensure tailored wraparound support is available to households when and where it is required to prevent destitution; reforms to benefit sanctions, deductions, and assessments; long-term commitments to, and reform of, publicly funded support for children and young people during school holidays; a robust new mechanism to ensure benefit levels truly guard against destitution; and labour market reforms to address the scourge of in-work poverty.
As an immediate step, they are gathering evidence to call for the renewal of the Household Support Fund in 2024-25, and to reform standing charges and debt collection linked to prepayment meters.
These are all aims that Communities Together Durham wholeheartedly support and which echo our work with parishes across the Diocese, as well as in our partnership with Citizens UK, and we look forward to working with Andrew and the Feeding Britain team in 2024 and beyond. For more information regarding the work of Feeding Britain and how you can become involved, please do see their website.