First, I want to thank you for your work to support those at risk of food insecurity during the Coronavirus pandemic.
I know that you have taken huge measures including financial support and food donations to frontline charities, as well as making it easier for people to donate food in your stores. I am also aware that your staff are on the frontline of this crisis, working each day to support people across London and the UK. Your efforts to keep supply lines going have been incredible.
However, I am writing to you as a matter of urgency. It has become clear that there are foodbanks in up to seven London boroughs that are reporting critical shortages of food. We are also aware that some foodbanks have been forced to close, or are considering closing, due to a shortage of food and people to run them.
There is a real risk of people going without food during this crisis and in particular, for those in some parts of London, the risk will be even greater over the coming Easter weekend. As you will know, there has been a massive surge in demand for food aid due to the Coronavirus.
Across the country, new Universal Credit claimants rose by nearly one million in the first two weeks after the lockdown, clearly related to the numbers of people who have found themselves out of work due to businesses closing.
At the same time foodbanks have seen a significant drop in volunteering and support. They are reporting difficulties in getting online booking slots as well as securing the supply of non-perishable items that they need.
I have four urgent requests for you to help us to address these shortages, with a specific focus on building up available stocks for foodbanks over the coming Easter weekend:
- As a matter of urgency, can you through your distribution networks, organise additional direct donations for those food banks that are today facing critical shortages of food. We can support this by providing a list of these organisations and help facilitate contact.
- If you have not done so already, can you make available priority online booking slots for foodbanks and other emergency food aid organisations (for example, including women’s refuges and homeless hostels) and make it clear how organisations access these bookings.
- Can you help emergency food aid providers save a significant amount of time shopping in store now by reserving a bulk supply of perishable and non-perishable products in one place and removing the need to queue at checkouts (for example, this could be achieved by reserving an hour for emergency food aid providers to shop alongside key workers).
- Can you lift the restriction on the amount of items per person that individuals can purchase to enable foodbanks to properly replenish stocks for vulnerable people in need of food.
It would be helpful if my team could follow up with you as soon as possible on these issues and I will ask them to be in touch.
I realise that this request comes at a time when you are working tirelessly in extreme circumstances. However, this additional help will ensure that those Londoners facing the most acute need are supported through this crisis.