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Demand for Food Banks Soar in the Run up to Christmas

December 4, 2017, 4:00 PM
  • The UK’s capital cities in the top 5 for food bank searches
  • Use of food banks dramatically rose this year
  • Universal Credit areas see increases of almost 17%
  • What items are needed most for Christmas?
The demand for food banks this year has soared by an average of 6.6%. Image: Getty

Numbers of people using food banks have continued to rise this year.

Statistics from the Trussell Trust, who is Britain’s biggest food bank provider, shows over 1.8 million emergency food supplies were given out this year, with 436,938 to children.

This is an increase from 1,182,954 the previous year.

Google Trends shows a huge increase in people searching for food banks since 2004 and in the last three months (image: Google)

Key findings from the report by the Trust saw that in areas where Universal Credit has been fully rolled out, the demand for food banks has increased by 16.85% on average this year, more than double the national average of 6.6%.

This does not include the ‘hidden food banks’ that operate in the UK.

IFAN, the Independant Food Aid Network, found that there are 651 grass root level food banks that work independently of the Trussell Trust.

Latest Deals used data from Ahrefs.com to find the most searched for food banks in the UK, and asked them what supplies are most needed this Christmas.

LatestDeals.co.uk found the most searched for food banks in the month before Christmas

We also asked food banks what are the most needed items in the lead up to Christmas.

Non-perishable Christmas style food is what food banks are in need of at this time. Items like chocolates, sweets, Christmas pudding, custard, jams, condiments like cooking oil, ketchup, and pickles.

This is on top of other basic items that are needed all year round, like tinned goods.

Food banks are also in need of non-food items, which are often donated less. Hygiene products, like deodorant, soap, and sanitary towels, are needed throughout the year and at Christmas time, but are less likely to be donated than food.


Edinburgh has the most in demand food banks, with an estimated 371 people looking for one in the monthly run up to Christmas. It was also one of the first places for Universal Credit to be introduced, back in March 2015.

The Scottish capital’s unemployment rate is also above the national average, with 4.4% of the population out of work, although this has fallen since the previous year.

We spoke to a Trussell Trust food bank in Edinburgh about their needs. They said, “We haven’t seen a particular increase in the use of the food bank this year, it’s remained quite steady.

“The bank has been running for four years, we get an increase at Christmas but never a large jump.

“We always need the same types of food to make up our food parcels, this doesn’t really change at Christmas. We do get more donations at Christmas time, this normally includes things like nicer chocolate boxes or biscuits.

“People who are struggling still need the basic items in their food bank parcels though, things like tins of soup, meat, vegetables, and other staples”


Cardiff’s food banks are also highly in demand, as 344 have looked for one this month.

Despite Cardiff’s unemployment rate being well under average at 2.1%, this has not stopped a high demand for food banks in the Welsh capital. It is also an area where Universal Credit operates.

Alison Twyman, a volunteer at the Trussell Trust’s Cardiff food bank said:

“The food bank has been busier than before this year, and it’s always busiest around Christmas. The items we need most at the moment are Christmas things, like sweets, chocolates, and condiments.”


Oxford has the third most sought after food banks, with 338 people searching for a bank before Christmas.

The university town has a lower than national average employment rate at 3.6%, but the demand for food banks is still high going into the Christmas period. Oxford also operates under the Universal Credit system.

An independent Oxford Food Bank said, “We’ve seen an soaring demand for foodbanks this year.

“We’re very concerned the situation will worsen in the months leading up to Christmas, when demand for emergency food spikes, and when the number of food bank recipients in areas of full Universal Credit service will triple. Food banks cannot be relied upon to pick up the pieces when people’s benefits don’t come through.”


Coventry also has a high demand for food banks this winter, with 216 people looking for one in the month before Christmas.

A survey by the Office for National Statistics suggested that Coventry was the 8th most deprived area in the UK, and it has an unemployment rate of 5%, which is above the national average.


Despite London being the capital of the UK and one of the country’s most affluent areas, it’s food banks are still highly in demand.

An estimated 200 people are looking for food banks in London in the month before Christmas, making it the fifth most sought after in the UK. Universal Credit is also in the process of being rolled out in London, with areas like South East London already operating under it.

Although London is a wealthy city, it’s unemployment rate is 5.1%, which is above the national average.

A food bank in London said, “Our food bank relies on volunteer and donations, both of which we have needed more of this year.

“We always need extra help at Christmas, including volunteer drivers which are harder to find.

“The items that we need most this Christmas are rice, tinned vegetables, cereal, jam, toilet roll, and washing up liquid. We are always in need of both food and non-food products.”


The seaside town of Plymouth has an estimated 194 people pursuing it’s food banks this month.

Universal Credit has been operating for almost two years in the town, and its unemployment rate is high at 5%.

The Plymouth Food Bank said “This time of year can be very difficult for individuals and families who are already managing on extremely tight budgets.

“Increased winter fuel costs and delays in receiving Universal Credit push people into food crisis.”


Student filled city Canterbury is the seventh most sought after for food banks, with 185 looking for them before Christmas.

Despite the city’s low unemployment rate, at just 1.2%, it has some areas operating under Universal Credit, which has impacted the need for food banks in the city.

We spoke to Food Bank Canterbury, a Christian initiative run by volunteers.

They said, “We have experienced an increased need for the food bank this year. During the period July 2016- August 2017, the number of food parcels given out increased by 6.8%. We are also currently seeing an increase in the number of referrals in the run up to Christmas.

“Universal Credit hasn’t fully rolled out in this area. The Universal Credit problems are only part of the real problem facing low paid families who get benefits. Other problems are a freeze in rates despite inflation, benefit caps, family credit being limited to two children only, rent benefit cuts, and other changes as rents keep going up, which all contribute to increasing food bank use.

“We are always short of long life fruit juice, longlife milk, jam, tinned potatoes and tinned veg. We always receive plenty of pasta.”


Previously an industrial hub of the UK, Sheffield’s food banks are now some of the most sought after in the UK, with 165 people looking for one in the lead up to Christmas.

The high search numbers for food banks have coincided with Universal Credit beginning to be introduced into the city, which has an unemployment rate of 5.4%, a whole percentage above the national average.


Tied with Sheffield, York is also the eighth most in demand for food banks, as 165 people looked for one this month.

Universal Credit has recently been introduced to York this summer, which has a low unemployment rate of 3.2%

A Trussell Trust food bank in York said, “We’ve noticed an increase this year.

“We are always high on referrals over the summer anyway, as kids don’t get free school meals then, and we are expecting to be even more busy next summer with the change over to Universal Credit.

“We’re usually very busy at Christmas too, but we actually see more of an increase in January, as we’re not open ‘normal’ hours over the festive period.

“We’ve been really fortunate this year with lots of businesses etc collecting for us this Christmas, so our food store is looking really healthy! We are always in need of toiletries and cleaning products though; people don’t realise you can donate these to food banks.”


Cathedral city Exeter is slightly lower in popularity for food banks compared to York and Sheffield, with 163 people looking for one in the month before Christmas.

A Trussell Trust food bank in Exeter said, “There’s been a definite increase in demand this year. Our average number of clients last year was about 100 each week- recently it’s been 115 each week, and this doesn’t include emergency boxes. We’ve been giving away a tonne of food some weeks.

“We’re also seeing a steady increase in the run up to Christmas. I would imagine Christmas will stretch people even more, they don’t want to be excessive, they just want some seasonal cheer like all of us.

“Universal Credit has had a huge impact on people using food banks. Some have seen demand increase by 60% overnight, we’re having to prepare for it.

“Not all food banks need Christmas and seasonal food at this time! We really need the usual basics like longlife milk, coffee, tinned veg and tinned meat.”

Members of the Latest Deals community have also had experiences with food banks.

Sarah Wilson said, “I used one recently when I had my niece with me. I had three months with no funds to go towards her upbringing. I refused help financially at first, but finally accepted. I went to a food bank and was treated great. They greeted me nicely with a hot drink and a meal, and then was given the food package I needed. I was very grateful and will be returning this year to give items for Christmas.”

Beth Hancock was a volunteer at one, she said, “I really enjoyed volunteering at my local food bank, but don’t have the time now. I now donate every Christmas instead of giving out Christmas cards.”

Andrea Burton volunteers at a food bank in Kirklees, West Yorkshire.

She said, “I volunteer during the summer holidays and half term break with my 16 year old daughter. I really enjoy volunteering- I’ve met some lovely people there, and the volunteers are all really nice and we’ve got to know each other well.

“I’ve enjoyed packing up the bags and distributing, and sorting out all the food. It was very easy going and relaxed.

“I think there has been an increase in demand. The people that have come in are all very decent and polite, but numbers have gone up.

“Food banks are always short of tinned meat, coffee, and more expensive basic items. There’s always tonnes of pasta, beans, and tinned soup in stock, so if you want to donate, try and get some other items to give.”

Amy Bowling also volunteers at a food bank in Aviemore. She said, “My experience of volunteering is that it is very worthwhile and an essential part of the community. I find it humbling and I enjoy giving my time to help those less fortunate. It’s a busy environment with food boxes going out every week.

“Since Universal Credit was introduced, we have seen an increase in people needing the food bank as they receive no money for six weeks, sometimes longer.

“At Christmas we are in need of more tinned foods than normal, like tinned meats, vegetables, plus sweets and chocolate.

“I suffer from anxiety, depression, and agoraphobia, so this helps me get back into the community.”

Neeta Pankhania said, “We donate to the local temple and gurudwaras every three months. Most temples provide a fully cooked hot meal everyday for worshippers and anyone who walks in, regardless of who they are.

“Lots of homeless, refugees, and asylum seekers come to our local temple. Nothing is asked of you in return, people just want to be fed.

“Winter is the best time to donate as you never know who you are feeding and keeping warm too.

“We usually donate 20kg bags of flour, 5 litres of oil, 10 kg bags of sugar, or whatever they are running low on.”

Top 10 Items in Need This Christmas:

  • Toiletry sets
  • Coffee
  • Sponge puddings
  • Christmas items (mince pies, selection boxes, advent calendars)
  • Cleaning products
  • Tinned custard
  • Cooking oil
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Long life fruit juice
  • Jam

To find your local food bank and more information on how to donate, visit the Trussell Trust’s website.

niseevans14over a year ago

Food bank supported by our local church, will try and put more in for Christmas, hadn't thought of toiletries...

over a year ago

Yeh I didn't realise you could donate toiletries either. My local food bank said they really needed basics like loo roll, deodorant, toothpaste etc. Most supermarkets have a food bank donation box now which makes it much easier.

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