A food charity has warned that the most vulnerable people in society could go hungry in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and called for institutions like schools, hospitals and care homes secure food supplies to be protected.
Predicted spikes in food prices could hit institutions that feed millions of people every day particularly hard, because they do not have the flexibility to pay more or vary menus, the report from charity Sustain claims.
Public institutions typically have little spare money or storage space to stockpile food, and risk losing out to commercial buyers in competition for supplies at a time of scarcity.
Frontline charities, community groups and food banks supporting people in greatest need – like the homeless and people in extreme poverty – could see supplies of donated food dry up, as supermarkets find it easier to sell products nearing their sell-by date.
The warnings come as unconfirmed reports suggest the government is preparing a hardship fund for people vulnerable to the disruption expected if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on March 29.
Bank of England governor Mark Carney warned MPs in December that food prices could surge by up to 10% if the UK crashes out of the EU.
Sustain chief executive Kath Dalmeny said suppliers are privately predicting a hike of as much as 20% on core food categories for public sector institutions like schools and hospitals.
‘With public sector institutions spending £1 billion per year on food, HM Treasury must ring-fence sufficient funds to guarantee that school children, hospital patients and elderly people in care or receiving meals-on-wheels continue to receive the essential food they need, whatever the impact of a no-deal Brexit,’ Dalmeny told the Press Association.
The Scottish government has already allocated £500,000 in contingency funds for charities to access food for homeless hostels, children’s breakfast clubs and domestic violence refuges, but no such promise has been made by Westminster, she said.
‘What are frontline charities expected to do?’ said Dalmeny. ‘Ask vulnerable people to live off thin air?’
Food services Sustain believes are at risk of being impacted by a no-deal Brexit include:
• Free school meals for 1.4 million children
• Hospitals, care homes and meals-on-wheels services feeding over 600,000 people every day
• Food banks handing out more than 1.3 million three-day emergency food supplies a year
• Redistribution of 36.7 million meals’ worth of surplus food a year to homeless hostels, children’s breakfast clubs, lunch clubs for older people and domestic violence refuges
Sustain warned that no-deal inflation is likely to affect these people ‘disproportionately’ and called on the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions to consider measures – such as top-ups to benefit payments – to ensure they have enough to eat.
Its report said Theresa May should allocate powers and responsibilities to a member of her government to ensure that people in most need are guaranteed supplies of safe, wholesome and affordable food.
The charity called on the government to be more open about its preparations, saying the ‘relative secrecy’ surrounding discussions so far ‘is not conducive to sensible planning’.