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The Food Bank Crisis  

Turning to a charity because you can’t afford to buy food should be a last resort.  But worryingly, more and more people are finding themselves at such a crisis point that the only thing keeping them going is food banks and support from other charities like Citizens Advice.   

For many people, the cost-of-living crisis has gone beyond making tough decisions about what costs to prioritise, to making almost impossible choices, such as whether to eat three meals a day.   

And for Citizens Advice, an indicator of how bad this crisis has become is when we look at the number of people coming to us in a crisis situation, needing a food bank referral or emergency crisis support.   

Last year broke many unwelcome records, including the number of people seeking crisis support. For the nine months to September 2023, Citizens Advice nationwide had helped nearly 175,000 people with crisis support, easily surpassing the same previous record period in 2022. To put this into perspective, in nine months, Citizens Advice had helped approximately the same number of people who live in the City of Reading.  

A similar picture is shared by the Trussell Trust. In the past 12 months, charity food banks in their network have experienced their busiest year on record, delivering close to three million emergency food parcels, with some one million of these food parcels distributed to children.  

What’s causing this? One reason is that food prices are placing a strain on households.  In the three months to the end of July 2023, food prices were 25.6 percent higher than they were in the same period in 2021 (Source: Which? Supermarket Inflation Tracker 2023)

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the Office of National Statistics has recently found that around half of U.K. adults are now buying less food items when out shopping (ONS 2023).  

While we are all feeling the squeeze brought on by the cost-of-living crisis, we’re not all impacted the same way. As prices, especially for food and energy, remain exceptionally high, the only way to maintain the same standard of living is to spend more. But this is not an option for lower income households, as they need to spend a much higher proportion of their disposable income on essentials. This is leaving many lower income families closer to the edge than ever before. 

The Local Situation 

In North Herts, there are 17 different food provision groups (Source: North Hertfordshire Council 2023). One of these is the Trussell Trust, who currently operate three food bank centres in the District ( Letchworth, Hitchin, and Baldock). Mirroring the national trend, its centres have seen a spike in the number of people needing emergency food.  

Graph showing numbers of Trussell Trust Food Bank Parcels in North Herts

Source: Trussell Trust- End of Year Stats – Raw data file.

The table above illustrates that the current level of need is now out-stripping that faced during the pandemic, with a record number of people that have sought emergency support in the past 12 months.  

For those who use food banks, it’s worth keeping in mind that there is no guarantee of getting what you need when you visit a food bank, as food banks rely on donations.  

Citizens Advice North Hertfordshire – Our Data  

Citizens Advice is well positioned to provide unique insights into the challenges people are facing today, as the network of local charities helps hundreds of thousands of people nationally, with a wide range of problems.

This gives us insight on how food insecurity is impacting the people we help.  

The chart below shows the number of people who have turned to us (year on year) because they can’t afford to eat or because they need emergency financial assistance. 

At the time of writing the data showed that 2023 was the worst in the last 5 years.

charitable support

The majority of the demand is coming from clients who are disabled and/or have long-term illnesses.  

demographics food bank

76% of clients turning to us for food referrals and emergency support have either a long-term health condition or a disability.  

This closely follows the national trend.  Trussell Trust data shows that 75% of people who had been referred to a food bank in their network reported that they, or a member in their household, have a disability* (Trussell Trust 2023).  

A recently published in-depth study examining the drivers behind food insecurity among disabled people has narrowed down the reasons for this overrepresentation.  

The high proportion of food bank and emergency support needed for people with health conditions and disabilities is almost certainly affected by low awareness of benefit entitlements and the difficulties encountered in the application and assessment processes alongside incorrect decisions. (Scottish Centre for Social Research 2023).

The extra costs associated with disabilities – such as paying for specialised equipment – also play a key role in significantly increasing the risk of hardship among people with disabilities.

People with disabilities often have lower incomes. This can be as a result of the many challenging barriers they face to work such as discrimination, low pay and the inability to work full-time due to their illness or disability or because they are on a low income from benefits, which mean that any extra costs can reduce what is left to cover other essentials such as food (Scottish Centre for Social Research 2023; Scope 2023).  

*Disability: Under the Equality Act 2010 someone is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal day-to-day activities. The definition encompasses a wide-range of health conditions and impairments

Partnerships – Unlocking support    

Acknowledging that food banks are there to provide short-term, emergency support, Citizens Advice North Hertfordshire now has a Specialist Adviser and a Link Worker working directly within local Trussell Trust foodbanks. The principal aim is to offer assistance that goes beyond providing food referrals, and to find more long-term solutions (for instance help to navigate the complexity of the benefits system).   

Through our Link Worker we can offer face-to-face assistance and support on site at the Trussell Trust local food banks, increasing accessibility to advice and support.  

We also provide free, impartial and confidential advice on virtually any issue in many other local settings across North Hertfordshire and South Cambridgeshire.  

References and further reading 

Citizen Advice Cost of living Dashboard:  

North Hertfordshire Council (2023) Food Providers in North Herts:  

Office of National Statistics (2023) Cost of living insights: Food:  

Scottish Centre for Social Research (2023) Disability and Financial Hardship: How disability benefits contribute to the need for food banks in the UK (Commissioned by the Trussell Trust):   

Scope (2023) Disabled Employee Retention: 

Trussell Trust (2023), End of Year Stats:  

Trussell Trust (2023) Hunger in the UK: 

Trussell Trust (2023) Blog: Record number of emergency food parcels provided to people facing hardship by Trussell Trust food banks in past 12 months :  

Which (2023) Food price inflation: what’s happening to grocery costs at the supermarket?  



Citizens Advice North Hertfordshire is an independent, local charity reliant on raising our own funds to carry out our work to improve the lives of residents in North Hertfordshire and parts of South Cambridgeshire. 

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The number above is for the Hertfordshire Citizens Advice Line.   Opening hours are 10 am to 9 pm Monday to Wednesday, 10 am to 8 pm Thursday and Friday, and 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday.

If you would like to contact Citizens Advice North Hertfordshire directly please call us on 01462 689801 and leave a message.

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