Coronavirus drives uncertainty over food supplies

12th March 2020

Pictures of empty shelves in supermarkets, albeit temporary,  tell their own story about the uncertainty among consumers over food supplies – no matter the assurances from big retailers that their supply chains can cope with demand, fuelled by the coronavirus outbreak.

“Panic is going to be more dangerous than the virus itself,” the chair of a food bank in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, told The Guardian newspaper.

“Please, if you are stockpiling, have a look and say ‘am I really going to use this,” she added. “If not, is there someone who needs it more.”

As one of the busiest food banks in the UK, we couldn’t put it better. Newcastle West End Food Bank feeds more than 3,000 people each month, receiving over 1,100 food vouchers – and, like many, we are concerned about the implications that panic buying might have on our food donations. Based on figures from the Trussell Trust, to which we’re affiliated, food banks from this 428-strrong network alone gave out 1.6m parcels last year. And that’s before food banks in the Independent Food Bank Network, which represents another 189 banks, are included.

Food banks have become an essential part of the social safety net as emergency funding for the poorest, delivered by national and local government, has tailed off. People sanctioned by the Department for Work and Pensions, often for bureaucratic reasons, rely on us for help as their payments for Universal Credit (UC) are cut as a ‘penalty’. Others, new to the system, have to wait five weeks for the first payment.

With the coronavirus emergency uppermost in the minds of many, one worry is that that the poorest in our society will suffer as a result of people with better means stocking up and, in the worst-case scenario, leaving some supermarket shelves depleted. Another worry is that donations, either in cash or in food, might tail off. Please don’t let this happen.

The former Labour MP Frank Field, who now chairs the national  charity Feeding Britain, which runs food poverty schemes in 12 areas of England, has just called for “each of us to reflect on whether that extra packed of pasta really is  necessary for ourselves – or whether, instead we can donate it to help families who are hungry now.”

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