INCREASING shortages of food at food banks are putting strain on the heavily-subscribed services in the UK, including in north Cumbria.

Carlisle Foodbank has continued to report a high number of adults, children, and pets using its services, receiving essential food and home items as the cost-of-living crisis continues.

Prices were showing some signs of steadying as food inflation dropped to its lowest rate for almost two years last month, according to data from the British Retail Consortium.

Its data showed that prices of meat, fish, and fruit fell, and annual food inflation slowed to five per cent in February, down from 6.1 per cent in January and the lowest rate since May 2022.

It’s hoped that headline inflation will continue to go down, but recent reports of a jump in mortgage arrears and repossessions showed signs that even the affluent are being affected and are turning to food banks.

In Brampton, in which properties had an overall average price of £230,837 during 2023 according to Rightmove, a relatively newly-founded food bank is servicing more households in the CA8 postcode area.

A spokesperson from the Brampton Food Bank, founded in February 2023, said it is giving food to many more people now than when it started due to becoming ‘properly connected’ in summer.

They said the numbers (below, of 'days of food' defined as food for adults, children and family pets collectively) in the early months - February to June - are a measure of how well connected to social services the bank was, rather than a measure of need.

Its January 2024 peak is, they think, associated with the aftermath of families spending over Christmas.

“It almost certainly is more affluent, the areas of deprivation you see in Carlisle you cannot see in Brampton, and I suspect in any other rural areas,” they said on the area’s demographics.

“There are one or two areas in Brampton where you get collections of people who are deprived, but they’re tiny.

“You’ve got families living in what look like wealthy, big houses, and they’re struggling,” they added, saying the cost-of-living crisis is indiscriminate.

“19 years ago, there were no food banks in the UK, now there are 2,500,” they said.

Support for the food bank comes from individual donations, but also from local businesses, schools, Fair Share, and some grants.

"If you're struggling to buy food, you're also struggling to buy petrol and pay for mobile phones and internet.

"To compensate, we have drivers who will deliver if that is helpful and we have adopted a mobile phone loan approach, the cheapest rental that only does calls and texts," they concluded.

In Carlisle, demand is high, and despite showing a slight decrease in people using its services in the most recent data (below, showing the numbers of adults, children, and pets being served), they are currently ‘desperate’ for food.

Steph Humes, manager of Carlisle Foodbank, said 2023’s cost-of-living payments helped, but they’re ‘now getting to the stage where we’re running out of stock again, we’re getting so busy, and the money has been used up’.

“We’re still getting donations from people but because we’re busy it’s just not enough.

“Within the next week, we will run out of the main food items – pasta sauces, rice puddings, fruit, tinned vegetables – we have less than a week’s worth.

“We will then have to dip into our own funds.”

She and her colleagues don’t know what is causing this pressure, though, adding that they’ve seen a recent surge in homeless people and ‘sofa surfers’ accessing the food bank.

On demographics, it’s a similar story to Brampton, with there being no group of people not affected by a cost-of-living crisis that shows no clear sign of easing.