By Sonia Elks
LONDON, September 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – UK charity food banks ‘brace for the worst’ as government begins to end emergency aid measures put in place to cushion the impact of the coronavirus pandemic over millions of working people and low-income households.
An additional £ 20 ($ 27) weekly payment to support the country’s poorest families will be cut next month, and more than a million workers face an uncertain future as Britain becomes the first major economy to end its COVID-19 employment support program.
Food banks, which distribute staples ranging from dried pasta to baby food, are particularly concerned about the loss of the Universal Credit Supplement (UC), claimed by nearly 6 million people, according to official statistics.
“You’re going to have parents who go without food so their children can eat,” said Garry Lemon, director of policy and research at the Trussell Trust, which supports more than 1,200 food banks across Britain.
“I have spoken to many food banks over the past few weeks and they are absolutely bracing for the worst,” Lemon added. “They are doing all they can to make sure they have enough food to meet the increased needs.”
The UK move comes as other countries begin to wrap up state aid programs announced last year as COVID-19 battered the global economy.
In the United States, pandemic unemployment benefits that have supported millions of unemployed, temporary workers and business owners ended in early September, a month after a moratorium on residential evictions expired. .
Australia and Canada have also announced their intention to end income subsidies in the near future.
A UK government spokesperson said the increase in income allowances was still supposed to be temporary and had been effective in mitigating the pandemic’s impact on family finances, adding that the focus was now on helping people to return to work.
But anti-poverty groups have said the loss of the benefit premium will be a blow to low-income Britons.
It also comes as rising gas prices drive up household energy bills, with the average household having to pay £ 139 more each year.
“The last time I used it (a food bank) the kids hadn’t had dinner in six days,” said Emma, who has three young children and asked to be identified only by her first name.
Emma said the family are behind in paying bills due to financial constraints from the pandemic and cuts in benefits will hit them hard.
“Once you are in this downward financial spiral, it is so hard to get out of it because you are constantly late,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“The only bill you can change from week to week is your food bill,” said Emma, who shares her experiences with the Covid Realities research project which tracks the impact of the pandemic on parents and caregivers at low income.
Emma said she visits a food bank every few months – in a bid to minimize visits so as not to deprive anyone in an even worse situation.
“It’s going to be more consistent (now) – it upsets me because it’s something we never thought we had to do. We’re not a well-off family but we’ve never been this bad before. see no way out, ”she said.
“Near full capacity”
Nationally, more than 800,000 people will fall into poverty because of the cut in benefits, according to UK think tank Legatum Institute.
A fifth of benefit claimants said they would “very likely” need to skip meals once the mark-up was withdrawn, a survey of more than 2,000 people for the Trussell Trust found.
A similar number said they would struggle to afford to heat their homes.
“Independent food banks are bracing for increased demand as well as the challenges of food supply shortages and reduced donations,” said Sabine Goodwin, coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network.
At Moray Food Plus, a food bank in Scotland, Mairi McCallum said they were already operating “at near full capacity”.
“We are concerned about the negative impact of the reduction in UC and the strain it will put on our organization,” said McCallum. “We can’t do much more.”
At a food bank in east London, where a flood of visitors have arrived to collect bags of essentials, organizers have already had to limit the total number of lifetime visits to 12 per household.
“We are always getting new customers,” said Jemima Hindmarch, spokesperson for The Bow Foodbank, adding that they “constantly” worry about having enough supplies.
The impact of reduced benefits and rising heating costs during the winter months is likely to be “catastrophic” for people who are already struggling to cope, she said. “It pushes people just a little lower below that poverty line.”
($ 1 = 0.7297 pounds) (Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http: // news .trust.org)