Emergency independent food banks ask: "Can we stay open?" as UK goes into coronavirus lockdown

Hundreds of independent food banks and other food aid providers serving the most vulnerable people in the UK are worried they may have to close due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The following is a statement from Sustain member, the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN), issued Tuesday 24th of March 2020, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement of a COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown. It contains ten urgent questions for the government.

Independent food banks and other food aid providers are extremely concerned about staying open following lockdown given the risk of infection affecting volunteers, staff and those they support. An increasing number of independent food banks have told the Independent Food Aid Network that they are worried they may need to close as concerns over the risk of infection, venue closures and reduced access to food supply makes running their operations unfeasible.

Sabine Goodwin of the Independent Food Aid Network said: "Independent food banks and food aid providers will do their utmost to stay open but they're having to make incredibly difficult decisions about the safety of their staff and volunteers and how exactly to support those in need in their communities with little guidance; reduced or no food supply; and increasing desperation in their midst. Independent emergency food aid providers struggling on the frontline need immediate and specific guidance and above all reassurance that the Government will do all it can to reduce the footfall to food banks through income-based solutions."

Huge numbers of people operate or use emergency food aid providers in Britain. Hundreds of thousands depend on their services in the absence of adequate social security benefit payments and as a result of low-paid and insecure work. Approximately 3 million emergency food parcels are given out by over 2,000 independent and Trussell Trust food banks annually and that figure does not include data relating to thousands more food aid providers including community kitchens, soup kitchens and social supermarkets. Up to 10% of UK households live with moderate and severe food insecurity.

We need immediate access to adequate cash provision for those already in need and for the many more who are likely to be needing support as a direct result of Coronavirus-related job losses.

On behalf of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, and the food banks and food aid providers that support them, here are our questions for the government:

  1. Do food aid providers and their key workers need paperwork to continue operating? How can they prove their work is "key"?
  2. Churches, community centres, community buildings are being closed. This puts even more strain on food banks already pushed to the limit by not being able to bypass supermarket rationing schemes, far fewer donations and a depleted volunteer force. Do local authorities and churches need to keep food aid provider venues open?
  3. If a food aid provider decides to close which bodies should be notified? Which agency/agencies will take responsibility for preventing adults and children formerly accessing support from that setting from going hungry?
  4. Can guidance be issued specifically for charitable food aid settings including health and safety and food safety guidance?
  5. Some of our member organisations have set up areas outdoors to distribute food parcels to minimise the risk of infection - but this means people are likely to be congregating. Is there advice you can give on this?
  6. Many independent food banks have started to run delivery services to reduce the risk of infections can you please issue guidance as to door-step deliveries of this nature?
  7. Food bank teams need to sort donations, pack emergency food parcels and often social distancing rules will be difficult to follow – how can they minimise the risk of infection?
  8. How can those who need support access food aid given many of the referral pathways are no longer operating?
  9. How can people needing food aid be reassured that they will be able to access food if financial support is not put in place?
  10. How can you reassure frontline food aid teams about their personal safety at this very difficult time?

24/03/2020
Coronavirus Food Alert

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Coronavirus Food Alert: Sustain's work on food resilience in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.We are helping secure food for vulnerable people and supporting local emergency responses.

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