Belfast Foodbank demand risen 60% since 2021 with Tesco predicting worst food price rises still to come

The manager of a Belfast foodbank says he is not surprised to hear the worst of rising food prices is “yet to come” - noting they saw an increase in demand of 60% last month.

By Philip Bradfield
Monday, 7th February 2022, 6:47 pm
Updated Monday, 7th February 2022, 6:51 pm
Tony Meehan, manager of the West Belfast Foodbank
Tony Meehan, manager of the West Belfast Foodbank

Tesco Chairman John Allan has said food prices at the supermarket chain grew by only 1% in the last quarter but could rise by 5% in the coming months.

Tony Meehan, the Manager of West Belfast Food Bank responded: “I am not surprised to hear what he is saying. Petrol has gone up, costs for basic essentials like bread milk, cheese ham and pasta have gone upThey are all skyrocketing.

“The normal cost of living on top of everything else has gone up. I know it is easy to blame the Protocol and Brexit and lack of HGV drivers and everything else, but the crazy thing is that most times that prices go up, they don’t come back down again.

“The cost of heating oil gas and electricity have all jumped up but when things stabilize in Ukraine and gas starts to come through from Russia again, does that mean that prices are going to come down, or are they going tostay high? In my experience they are probably not going to come down, or if they do it will not be by much.”

He said that many people are genuinely struggling.”

There is very little recourse for such people. Energy providers will give an emergency top up of £20 but they won’t give too many of them.”His food bank serves people coming from all over Belfast.

“January is always a difficult month because people get paid their benefits or pay early in December. So I would say that we are probably seeing a 50-60% increase on last year in the number of people we are helping compared to January 2021. Quite a number of people who are contacting me are struggling just to make ends meet.”

The rising energy costs were already putting serious pressure on people’s food budget, he says.

Kevin Higgins, Head of Policy at Advice NI says the situation has gone beyond crisis point for many people.”The unending, brutal spike in the cost of food, fuel and general cost of living has gone beyond crisis point. As the Utility Regulator, energy providers, retailers and the Bank of England all predict that the worst is yet to come, we look towards our Government - both local and national - to step up and support those most impacted, namely low income households both in and out of work.

“The response from the UK Government has been particularly woeful. For example today we see a Motion in Parliament to approve the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2022, which will increase means tested benefits and tax credits by 3.1% from April 2022. In the context of inflation rising to 7% and above, this is effectively a real-terms cut for those on the lowest incomes.

“Locally we have the £2m Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme for those in emergency need and we await the £55m Energy Payment. Support Scheme which will provide £200 to people on means tested benefits. We need to see this support urgently getting to the people that need it. Much, much more must be done; and it is unthinkable that the additional funding package recently announced by the Treasury to support people with rising energy costs, with £150m ear-marked for NI, may be at risk because of the lack of a functioning Executive.”

Tesco chairman John Allan told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “Food is a relatively small part of household spending, it’s only about 9%, that figure has halved in the last half century.

“But of course, it’s a bigger proportion for those on the lowest incomes. So I think we’re concerned particularly about what can we do to try to protect those who are hardest up, who are going to suffer most from that?

“And in some ways, the worst is still to come because although food price inflation in Tesco over the last quarter was only 1%, we are impacted by rising energy prices; our suppliers are impacted by rising energy prices.

“So the likelihood is that that inflation trigger will rise but we’re doing all we can to offset it.”

The governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, has warned that inflation could hit 7.25% by April and is unlikely to fall back to normal levels for two years.

The Bank raised interest rates to 0.5% on Thursday with further rises expected.

It comes as the Government said it has not ruled out stepping in with more support if energy bills rise again as expected in October.

Mr Allan added: “I predicted last autumn that food prices by the spring might be rising about 5%.

“I sincerely believe that it’s not going to be any more than that, it might even be slightly less, but that’s the sort of number we’re talking about.

“But of course 5%, if you’re spending – as some of the least well-off families are spending – 15% of your household income, is significant.

“It troubles us and I’m sure troubles many people that people may have to struggle to choose between heating their homes and feeding their families and that’s clearly not a situation that any of us should tolerate.”

He added that fuel prices are “unlikely to come down very quickly”.

“There has been a huge surge in fuel prices in the last year. And I think our hope is that they will now stabilised and ultimately come down but they’re unlikely to come down very quickly, I think.”