The Autumn Statement

Autumn statement illustration

The cost-of-living crisis has affected all of us but, for the many people who rely on the support provided by the food banks and community groups to which we deliver, making ends meet has been particularly challenging.

Research by the Trussell Trust has shown that the most significant cause of the financial insecurity that drives the need for food banks, is the design and delivery of the social security system. With 4 in 5 food bank users in receipt of some form of state support, what might be the impact for them of benefit changes announced in the Autumn Statement?

Many will welcome the Chancellor’s announcement on Wednesday that benefits for 2024-25 will rise, although there will be stricter sanctions for claimants who don’t look for work.

Universal Credit and other benefits to rise by 6.7%

Benefits for working-aged people will increase by 6.7% from April 2024, in line with September’s inflation rate. This will include Universal Credit (UC), means-tested benefits such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

State Pension increased by 8.5%

The so-called triple lock, about which there had been pre-statement speculation that it may change, remains in place, with the announcement of an increase by 8.5%.

  • For anyone reaching state pension age before April 2016, their full weekly basic state pension will rise from £156.20 to £169.50.
  • For anyone on the full new state pension, from April 2024 their weekly payment will rise from £203.85 to £221.20.
  • Compared to 2023-24, over a year, a single person will receive £690 more and couples £1,104. People in receipt of the new state pension will get up to £902 more.

Changes to the Local Housing Allowance

The Local Housing Allowance (LHA), which differs depending on where claimants live and according to the number of people in a household, is used to calculate the rate of Housing Benefit (HB), or the housing element of UC for which tenants are eligible.

Bringing an end to the freeze on rates in place since 2020, the Chancellor announced that, from April 2024, although only until April 2025, there will be an increase in LHA to the 30th percentile of local rents. Effectively this means that, for recipients of HB, or the housing element of UC, they will be able to afford the cheapest 30% of homes, linked to the size of their household and to the rates in the area in which they live.

Changes to benefit assessments

The Chancellor announced changes to work capability assessments (WCAs), which will now consider if people are able to work from home, the intent being to lower the number of people accepted for disability benefits.

Assessments will consider the impact that a claimant’s physical and mental health has on their ability to work. For people who an assessor thinks capable of doing physical work, they will then automatically be considered a job seeker and required to prove they are actively looking for work.

Although better employment support for people living with physical, mental ill health or disability, but who are ready to return to work, is viewed as a good investment, there are concerns by some organisations that the changes announced could herald the imposition of unnecessarily punitive sanctions. 

After a year without finding a job, for example, people claiming UC will face a mandatory work placement to ‘increase their skills and improve employability’. For anyone facing an ‘open-ended sanction’ for more than six months, benefits will be stopped entirely, and their case closed, leading to a loss of entitlement to free NHS prescriptions and legal aid.

Today’s announcement of an increase in benefits in line with inflation and an end to the freeze on LHA will undoubtedly ease some of the pressures driving millions of people to food banks. For some, however, the impact of unnecessarily harsh sanctions, which many charities and campaigners fear, will be less welcome.

The full 2023 Autumn Statement and related documents can be viewed on the website via this link.

EFA’s Tree-Decorating Task Force

Earlier this week, as Storm Debi blew in, EFA’s tree-decorating task force assembled beneath ours, part of the 11th Princesshay Charity Christmas Tree Festival, where 35 trees will be lit this evening.

As we decorated our tree, storm Debi’s gathering force roared into the centre, turning our spot into a wind tunnel – the wind’s equivalent of rapids. At times we had to hold on to keep it standing, and us from being blown away.

But despite the challenges, the task force excelled, and we now have an impressively dressed tree. Although other trees are available, we think that ours stands out from the crowd.

Huge thanks to everyone involved, especially volunteer, Dave Turner, who balanced valiantly on a ladder that Debi tried hard to blow over. And a huge thank you to Mitch Siviter, activities coordinator at Exeter care home, Alexander House. Mitch enabled us not only to adorn our tree with hanging fruit and other food, but to top it with a team of reindeer pulling a beautifully constructed model of a food delivery van, reaching towards the heavens. Thanks, Mitch, for the icing on the cake!

Princesshay Christmas Tree
Exeter Food Action's Christmas Tree

Thursday evening, our lights finally turned on.
Courtesy Wendy Kearns (Tree-decorating Task Force Commander).

The King’s Coronation Food Project

It’s King Charles’s 75th birthday today and, as part of the celebrations, he’s launched a venture to help mitigate the growing national crisis of food poverty, the King’s Coronation Food Project.

In a birthday interview with the Big Issue, he voices his concerns about cost of living pressures, lamenting the fact that so many families and individuals are missing out on nutritious meals. Referring to the millions of tonnes of food that go to waste, he commits his project to creating a lasting legacy to help others – and help the planet.

With his initiative’s ambitions chiming so well with the work of Exeter Food Action over the last twelve years, his voice is undoubtedly a welcome addition to those of the many organisations challenging food poverty and waste. It doesn’t get much better than having the King of the Land helping to raise awareness and committing resources to the work in which we and so many others are engaged.

Baroness Louise Casey, a trustee of the King’s Coronation Food Project, has relevant experience in the field, having been deputy director of Shelter in 1992, and head of the Rough Sleepers’ Unit (RSU) in 1999. She will co-chair the project with Dame Martina Milburn, the former long-time boss of The Prince’s Trust.

After months of consultation and research, Milburn and Casey, supported by a team coordinated by the King Charles III Charitable Fund, have come up with a plan that focuses on establishing ‘super hubs’ across the country, which already has the backing of all political parties.

With the project’s commitment to expanding warehouses, fridges, freezers, vans and drivers, fast tracking the transit of food to communities in need and the considerable resources at its disposal, we’ll be keeping a close eye on developments.

King Charles III - Big Issue cover

Movement for Good Awards

This year we’ve delivered more good quality, nutritious food than ever before, supporting nearly sixty food banks and community groups in Exeter and across Devon, getting food onto the tables of people who need it.

Obviously, just as demand has increased, so have our costs, and we’d like any visitors to our website to consider nominating us for a Movement for Good Award. Doing so only takes a minute and, if enough people do, we stand a good chance of winning £1,000, which will be a tremendous help to us at the moment. Nominations are open until 17.12.23.

Please spare a moment to nominate us, which is easily done by clicking on the Movement for Good Awards image below.

Thank you.

Movement for Good Awards

An EFA, Park Life & Refugee Support Devon partnership

Park Life Heavitree is a community group that brings people together in and around Exeter’s Heavitree Pleasure Ground. In September 2023, through a partnership with Exeter Food Action, a local allotment and Refugee Support Devon, Park Life began offering a space where asylum seekers can cook culturally sensitive food with fresh ingredients, which they can take back to their families at the hotel where they’re housed, which prohibits them from cooking on site. Food provided to the hotel by a contractor has been described by local councillors as ‘unappetising’ and ‘lacking variety’.  

The project, which runs every 2 weeks, is supported by local volunteers and Park Life staff. Sessions have been very popular, with a lot of positive feedback on how much people enjoy attending. Volunteers support the set up and running of the afternoons, as well as a small area for pre-school children who attend with their parents.

Anyone interested in participating or volunteering for the project should contact k. Similarly, anyone interested in volunteering for Exeter Food Action can find out more via this link.

A Park Life project participant cooking

And the winner is ….

As reported in a September news item, Exeter Food Action is now a recipient of funds raised through the Exeter Community Lottery. From every £1 ticket purchased, which buys a line of potentially lucky numbers, 60p goes to local good causes, and we’re one of them.

On Saturday 28th October, for example, an Exeter resident matched 4 numbers and won £250.00. With a top prize of £25,000, and every ticket having a 1 in 50 chance of winning, the odds of a win are better than with the National Lottery.

Please consider participating if you can and, at the same time, supporting Exeter Food Action. Simply head over to our Exeter Community Lottery page and click on ‘Buy Tickets’.

It could be you, and it could be us – good luck!

Ever-rising demand

An earlier news item (17.08.23), referred to the fact that we’re breaking records, although we’d rather not be because they reflect ever-rising demand. This trend has continued and, in our last quarter, which covers the period from July to September, we redistributed 25 tonnes of food, taking our total to just over 93. It now seems likely that we’ll have broken the 100 tonne barrier by the middle of November, which is far in excess of the total for whole of the previous year.

To provide some kind of context the August news item compared the weight of the food we’d distributed back then to a plane. If we break the 100 tonne barrier we’ll have gone stratospheric: the Space Shuttle, including its orbiter, main engines and solid rocket boosters, weighed about 100 tonnes at lift off. Alternatively, for something more down to earth, with the heaviest elephants on record weighing close to 10 tonnes, we’ve distributed food comparable to the weight of 10 elephants.

Whether it’s planes, space shuttles or elephants, however, such context, while helpful, shouldn’t overshadow or make light of the real challenges that these volumes reflect. Although there’s no official figure for an ‘average’ meal weight, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a climate action NGO working around the globe to tackle the causes of the climate crisis, recommends 420g.

Using WRAP’s calculation, if we break the November barrier we’ll have provided in the region of 238,000 meals for the many families and individuals we support. Regrettably, according to a recent report by the Trussell Trust (20.09.23), the cost of living crisis is deepening for people on the lowest incomes – but we remain determined to rise to the challenge. Anyone wishing to help us do so by making a donation to our vital work can do so easily via this link.

1 in 4 teachers giving food to hungry pupils

A recent survey of 9,000 teachers by our partners, FareShare, found that concern for hungry pupils led to one in four bringing food into school, with over a third saying that their schools regularly provided food support to children and their families.

Worryingly, the report highlighted that the highest proportion was in the South West, where 29.4 per cent of teachers said they had personally provided food for pupils during the 2023 summer term. This compared with 28.7 per cent in the North West, 25.7 per cent in Yorkshire and Humber, and 25.6 per cent in the Midlands.

FareShare has said that without access to more food the majority of the charities it supports may have to reduce their services, impacting families across the UK, and they’re calling on the Government to fund food surplus redistribution to get good food to people, not waste. You can view their call via this link.

You can read more about the report’s findings via this link, but if you’d like to support Exeter Food Action’s efforts to address the challenges faced by so many struggling families and individuals in Exeter and across Devon, please consider a donation, however small.

We’re determined, as ever, to rise to the challenges of food insecurity but we can’t do this without the kindness and generosity of our friends and supporters. Please help if you can, which you can do easily by following the donation button below.  

Thank you.

It could be you – and us!

Exeter Food Action is now a potential recipient of funds raised through the Exeter Community Lottery. Draws take place every Saturday and ticket holders have a one in fifty chance of winning something, with a top prize of £25,000. From every £1 ticket purchased, 60p goes to local good causes in Exeter, and Exeter Food Action could be one of them.

If you’d like to have a chance of winning and of supporting Exeter Food Action at the same time, simply head over to EFA’s Exeter Community Lottery page and click on ‘Buy Tickets‘.

Good luck!

EFA’s walking rugby team

Waking rugby

In between delivering food the weight of almost two Airbus A320 passenger planes (see previous news item), our hardworking EFA team also finds time to rest and play. On 14th September, thanks to an invitation from Topsham Rugby Club, and with the expert coaching of EFA volunteer, Dave Turner, a group comprising volunteers, friends, staff and a trustee, boldly went where none had gone before and took to the pitch for an evening taster session of walking rugby.

Although slightly daunted at playing alongside the wonderfully named Topsham Fossils, winners of the inaugural 2018 Devon Walking Rugby Festival, the 2019 National Vintage Games, the 2022 Crediton Fun Cup, the 2022 Crediton Fair Play Award and the 2022 Withycombe WR Cup, thanks to Dave’s patient tuition our team fared well, and no injuries were sustained.

Walking Rugby is one of England Rugby’s non-contact formats of the game and, much to our team’s delight, all slightly anxious at the prospect of the bruises, bumps and scary looking scrums seen in proper rugby, walking rugby’s quite different. There’s no tackling, no scary scrums, no line outs and no kicking, just ‘touch’ tackles, with the game played on a much smaller pitch and participants walking at all times. It was all about fitness and fun, and fun was had by all.

Huge thanks to Topsham Rugby Club for the opportunity. We’ll be back!