Report In the UK, faced with inflation, food banks are concerned that their beneficiaries are “choosing between heating or food”

In the red brick church, there are no pews or worshippers, but shelves as far as the eye can see, filled with boxes of cereal, preserves and boxes of vegetables. The site has recently been converted into a warehouse “supplying four south London food banks”, says Ellie, 28, who oversees operations that morning. The site collects all types of donations and the distributions take place in several popular areas of Lambeth, Greater London, with the end of the month becoming more and more “painful”.

“Among our beneficiaries there are people who work. Until a few months ago, they never imagined having to ask for help to eat.Ellie explains. The economic crisis is already affecting many families, and it is affecting surprisingly’. Weakened by the Covid-19 pandemic, Britain is suffering from an inflation rate of more than 10%, the highest in Europe. Hardly had she come to power, the new Prime Minister Liz Truss announced on Thursday 8 September that electricity prices were to be reduced for two years. An unprecedented measure in light of the expected explosion in prices. In late August, the national energy price regulator announced an 80% increase from October, leaving the door open for further increases over the winter.

“It’s a blow for everyone, especially for the most vulnerable”, Ellie responds. The organization she works for, The Trussel Trust, clearly makes the connection between fuel poverty and food poverty. “The two are obviously connected, and the first has a high chance of leading to the second, especially in the coming months”assures the associative worker whose observation is clear: “This winter, many have to choose between heating or eating, and that is not an acceptable situation.”

The concern is equally noticeable in the district of Brixton, further north. Like every dinner, the Brixton Soup Kitchen truck, a local association, provokes a small crowd. Solomon, its founder, has been distributing hot meals to the homeless and families in need for ten years. The appearance is fleeting, no one wants to spill their situation, but the topic of energy bills comes up very often, assures the manager of this soup kitchen.

In Brixton, south London, Solomon, 37, distributes hot meals to homeless people and families in the area.  (PIERRE-LOUIS CARON / FRANCEINFO)

“We talk about it all the time, the government needs to control prices even more”claims the one who sees his neighborhood getting poorer. “Recently we’ve seen people come who have real jobs but sleep in their car or at their workplace. It’s crazy!” he chokes.

“There is little help from the government. Solidarity is the only thing we have left.”

Solomon, manager of a soup kitchen

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For the start of the school year, Solomon organized a gigantic distribution of clothes and school supplies, the prices of which skyrocketed. “The supplements are no longer enough, and even when they are increased, they do not keep up with the price increase”, he laments. Inflation also hampers its fundraising because its association relies on donations from restaurants or individuals. “Unfortunately, people can no longer give as much as before, and I have already had to buy food out of my own pocket to supplement the meals distributed”, he explains. As fall approaches, Solomon plans to “beg even more” to encourage donations and meet the demand for food aid.

At his church, whose basement has been converted into a food pantry, Pastor Mike Long is also preparing for a difficult winter. Located in Notting Hill, west London, the building is at the crossroads of affluent residential areas and much less affluent neighbourhoods, a stone’s throw from Greenfell Tower, the social housing building destroyed by a deadly fire in 2017. “There is a lot of inequality in London, just like the UKhe remembers. I have neighbors who drive luxury cars and others who don’t always have enough to take the bus.’ Since 2018, the parish has hosted a food bank that helps the most vulnerable. “The problem is that the economic crisis is exacerbating all these inequalities”breathes the priest.

Pastor Mike Long has been hosting a food bank at his church in Notting Hill, West London, UK since 2018.  (PIERRE-LOUIS CARON / FRANCEINFO)

Above all, it describes an infernal spiral fueled by soaring energy prices. “The poorest do not have enough in the bank, they are not paid monthly and cannot spread the increase over a year”, he explains. In the UK, most suppliers offer their customers the option to activate their meter with prepaid cards, which must be recharged when the balance is used up. Despite the price cap decided by the new Prime Minister Lizz Truss, many will still have to pay the high price from October to continue to have electricity. “Some families just won’t be able to afford it”warns pastor.

In the middle of the rows of tin cans, Mike Long does not hide his dismay. “What we try to avoid at all costs is that children go to bed hungry or that the elderly suffer from the cold.he confides. But we know that people get sick and that some may die because their living conditions will have worsened considerably.’ For the pastor, the situation of some families is so fragile that “the slightest inconvenience, such as a car repair, an unpaid bill or a fine, for example, could suck them to the core”. In addition to the distribution of food, he is therefore considering offering heated rooms in his church this winter, to give those who want “Leaving the cold and often crowded apartments for a while”.

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