FOODBANK volunteers are carrying out £30 million a year in unpaid work, new research has revealed.
Figures published this week by the Trussell Trust and the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) show that volunteers are donating nearly three million hours to distribute food to those in need of emergency help, and a further 1.2 million hours to carry out administrative tasks at foodbanks.
If volunteers were paid the national living wage — currently £7.50 per hour — the cost would be £30.8 million, the study estimates.
The study also conducted a comprehensive stock-take of all foodbanks in the UK, and found that, on top of the Trussell Trust’s 1235, there are more than 700 independent foodbanks also providing emergency food help.
The diocese of Oxford has carried out its own research into rising demand at foodbanks in its region of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire, and found that demand is rising most sharply in rural areas.
One user of a foodbank in user in North Oxfordshire described the service as a “lifeline”. She was referred after being diagnosed as seriously ill and has three children below the age of 13. When her husband received a pay rise their Child Tax credits were halved, which ended up cutting their income by more than her husband’s boosted salary.
“The foodbank has been a lifeline for me,” she said. “My illness has left me unable to work, and I am due to have surgery soon, but I don’t qualify for disability benefit.
“I hope I don’t have to use it for long, but it has been so important just while we recover financially.”
Samantha Stapley, from the Trussell Trust, said that the introduction of Universal Credit had increased the need for emergency food-aid. “Issues with benefit payments remain the main reason why people need a foodbank parcel; and, with issues caused by Universal Credit increasingly reported by foodbanks as a concern, we urge the Government to take steps to make sure people don’t face going hungry in the UK today.”
Professor Jon May, who chairs IFAN’s board of trustees, said: “IFAN supports the efforts of the thousands of foodbanks, and tens of thousands of volunteers, working so hard to help feed their communities. But we call on Government to stop relying on foodbanks, and to accept its responsibilities for Britain’s hunger crisis.
“We now know that, though we already pay £11 billion a year to subsidise a low-wage economy, because employers are not paying people enough to live on, volunteers up and down the country are providing a further £30million a year in ‘free’ labour to ensure that our fellow citizens in low-paid work, on zero-hour contracts, or relying on a broken benefits system have enough to eat.
“Whilst we must continue to support those in need, we must also — and urgently — advocate for fundamental change.”