Food poverty warning: Schools bracing for a difficult winter ahead

Schools are bracing for the knock-on impact of increasing rates of food poverty this winter with more and more families accessing food banks.
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The Trussell Trust, which runs a network of food banks across the UK, is forecasting that 600,000 people will need support between December and February.

During the same period last winter, the charity supported more than 220,000 children, with 225,000 people using food banks for the first time – these figures are also expected to be higher this winter.

The charity is expecting to provide more than one million emergency food parcels – which would be up from 904,000 last winter.

The Trussell Trust has reached its estimates by looking at the average increase in need seen from April to September 2023 and comparing this to the same period in 2022.

Official figures state that 4.2 million children are now living in relative poverty (household income below 60% of the median after housing costs). This is 29% of all UK children. Of these, 2.7 million are living in “deep poverty” – families below 50% of the median income. Furthermore, 21% of children who live in relative poverty are now also living in food insecure households (DWP, 2023).

Meanwhile, the Institute of Fiscal Studies has reported that despite 30% of families on Universal Credit being considered “food insecure”, 69% of families on Universal Credit are not eligible for free school meals (FSMs) – this equates to 1.7 million children (Cribb et al, 2023).

In September, research from the Child Poverty Action Group reported that 68% of school staff say there are more pupils coming to school without money for enough food at lunch, compared with two years ago.

And in May, the on-going COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities (COSMO) study found that 1 in 10 young people were living in food insecure households during Covid, while a third of young people in families using food banks during the pandemic were not eligible for FSMs.

The National Education Union said the Trussell Trust’s warning was yet another reason to introduce universal free school meals – or at least to ensure that FSMs are offered to all families on Universal Credit.

General secretary Daniel Kebede said: “An expected increase on the 220,000 children who accessed food banks last year is nothing short of an emergency. Poverty and child hunger have tremendous social and moral costs and the government must act now to reverse this worrying trend. Introducing FSMs for all children, starting with those in primary, is the best way to ensure that no child goes hungry while in school, and lifting the two-child limit (for the payment of social security benefits) would take 250,000 children out of poverty overnight. The government must act now. The cost of inaction is far greater." 

Meanwhile, the Trussell Trust has launched a campaign encouraging donations of food to help meet increased need. It says that 93% of food banks are having to purchase stock to meet demand.

As a result, one in three food banks are concerned about being able to maintain current levels of service in the coming months.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said: “We don’t want to spend every winter saying things at food banks are getting worse, but they are. Food banks are not the answer in the long term, but while we continue to fight for the change that could mean they can be closed for good your local food bank urgently needs your support.

“They need donations of food for emergency parcels, and money to fund costs such as the purchasing of food to meet the shortfall in donations they are currently experiencing.

“One in seven people in the UK face hunger because they don’t have enough money to live on. That’s not the kind of society we want to live in, and we won’t stand by and let this continue. Every year we are seeing more and more people needing food banks, and that is just not right.”