Why a no-deal Brexit could be calamitous for food banks

A food bank

For households already living through a crisis in food security, no-deal Brexit could be a perfect storm of disaster.

Bad news seems to be accumulating at a record pace. Thanks to the frequent and stark warnings about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, so are stockpiles of food.

Britons have already spent billions amassing private stores of provisions, while big supermarkets like Tesco and Marks and Spencer’s have been filling their warehouses with non-perishables since just after the Christmas rush.

A modern cross-border food supply chain is a wonder of efficiency and, presently, a ceaseless whirr of containers passes unencumbered through ports like Folkstone and Dover, speeding Italian tomatoes and Spanish heads of lettuce towards our local supermarket shelves, all in the quick and convenient manner to which we’ve become accustomed.

But if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal on 31 October, gridlock caused by radically different customs arrangements will knock the balance of this finely-calibrated operation sharply out of kilter.

Justin King, the former chief executive of Sainsbury’s, told BBC Newsnight that gaps will appear on supermarket shelves within a week, noting that “something between 30 and 40 per cent of our produce at that time of the year is coming from the European Union.”

What has been less remarked upon regarding these premonitions of calamity is that the UK is already living through a crisis in food security of its own making, caused by nearly a decade of punitive austerity measures, which will likely be significantly worsened in a no-deal scenario.

The number of Britons relying on food banks to meet their needs has been rapidly increasing since 2010. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest network of food banks, gave out 1.6 million emergency food packages in the year ending this March.

It marked a rise of 19 per cent on 2018, driven by benefit sanctions, in-work poverty and delays tied to the roll-out of Universal Credit. Now, no-deal Brexit could be a perfect storm of disaster for the country’s most vulnerable households.

Disruption to food supply chains will mean less food on the supermarket shelves, and stockpiling by households and businesses means much-needed donations towards food banks will probably decline.

A falling pound, along with new tariffs on imported food, will drive the price of a weekly shop by up to 10 per cent, according to Bank of England governor Mark Carney, pushing already stretched family budgets beyond their limits.

Economic recession is a near certainty in the case of a disorderly exit. A report commissioned by the Belgian government predicts over 500,000 people in the UK, around five per cent of the workforce, will lose employment.

Food banks, operating on charitable donations and volunteer manpower, are engaged in a desperate battle to meet existing needs. It’s unclear how they could cope with the levels of poverty that would follow even a fraction of those estimated job losses.

The Trussell Trust does not have the facilities to centrally stockpile food supplies, and so plans to shift supplies around its …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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