Muslims Tackle the Rise of Living Costs


Once a week, Joanne makes an eight-mile round trip by bus to gather supplies from a foodbank.

She fills her shopping trolley with tins and dried food before returning home to her three children.

Joanne was among those waiting patiently outside Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre in Birmingham yesterday afternoon as the cost of living crisis continues to drive record numbers of people into food and fuel poverty.

The 57-year-old is a former Scout Leader, charity shop volunteer and market trader who now relies on other people’s goodwill to get by.

With her jacket hood up to shelter from the cold, she took her turn to be given emergency food at the mosque’s foodbank, which runs twice a week from large portable storage units in the car park.

FOR METRO JOSH LAYTON. Food bank user Joanne with her food bank package. The foodbank setup and run by volunteers at Green Lane Masjid on the 30th November 2022
Foodbank user Joanne with supplies to take home so she can cook meals for her three children over the course of a week (Picture: Joseph Walshe/SWNS)

Last month, the Trussell Trust said families were being forced to make ‘impossible decisions’ amid record levels of emergency food demand across the country. Joanne, who asked to be known by her first name, told she would rather ‘starve’ than let her children go hungry.

‘I’m here because it’s heat or eat,’ she said.

‘I’m finding it hard to make ends meet, I’m spending £10 a day on gas and it’s no joke.

‘I’ve come out to find some discounted food in Morrisons so my little ones can eat a healthy meal and I’ve come here to the foodbank, it’s crucial.’

Along with the emergency provisions, the single parent had two packs of discounted meat in her bag from the Morrisons store across the road as part of her weekly shop.

She gets by on universal credit and has been going to the foodbank in Small Heath for two years on and off, travelling by bus from her home in Sheldon.

Joanne said she is struggling to find work because she has a trapped nerve in her back, a hernia and is blind in one eye.

Foremost in her thoughts as she fills her bags in the fading light are her 17-year-old son and daughters aged six and seven.

‘My kids don’t like me coming here but it’s help for them,’ she said.

‘The hardest thing is telling them no when they want things, like a pair of shoes.

‘I’ll skip meals and I’ll starve if I have to make sure they can eat.’

The foodbank, which began seven years ago, is experiencing its greatest ever period of demand as pressures including rising fuel bills and food price inflation tip people into crisis.

Those in need are referred to the service by more than 30 local organisations and agencies.

Mark, 23, is another of those waiting for volunteer Sabrine Ellotfi to put together one of the parcels, which cover essentials such as tins of beans and packets of pasta and rice.

He said he has been referred to the foodbank by his support worker at a sheltered housing scheme nearby in Small Heath, one of the most deprived council wards in the city.

‘I come here for the basics, as universal credit only lasts a couple of days once the bills go out,’ Mark said.

‘I’ve found a part-time job as a turnstile operator and I start in a couple of weeks.

‘I’m hoping things improve.’

Nationally, the intensified demand is reflected in figures from the Trussell Trust showing foodbanks in the network gave out a record 1.3 million emergency parcels in the six months to September this year.

In Small Heath, the recipients are a cross-section of society including another mum with her baby in a pushchair and a middle-aged man who said in broken English that he has a wife and daughter to feed.

The lifeline makes use of food and essential items such as cutlery, toiletries and nappies which have been donated to the mosque or funded through charitable giving.

Muhammad Ali, the masjid’s head of welfare and youth provision, said: ‘Over the last few months the number of people coming to the foodbank has doubled. Previously, there would be between 30 and 35 people over the two sessions in a week, now it is between 70 and 80.

‘Of those people turning up, they have family members at home who need the food, so we are probably serving up to 200 people a week at the moment.

‘The foodbank is in overdrive at the moment and that’s just a reflection of the cost of living crisis.

‘In Islam we have the concept of Zakat, which is essentially a hardship fund where every Muslim who is able to gives a certain amount to charity each year

‘At the mosque we distribute those funds locally to those in need.

FOR METRO JOSH LAYTON. The foodbank setup and run by volunteers at Green Lane Masjid on the 30th November 2022
The foodbank at Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre has been experiencing record levels of demand amid the cost of living crisis (Picture: Joseph Walshe/SWNS)

‘This year the amount we have spent is two and a half times higher than last year and it has all been spent locally. It is going primarily to people who are behind on bills as they struggle to pay for gas and electricity, so the cost of living crisis is really affecting our local populace here.’

Financial pressures on households include steep rises in the average power bill, which is due to go up from £2,500 to £3,000 in five months’ time.

In the shops, groceries are now more than 12% higher than they were last November, according to the BRC-Nielsen IQ Shop Price Index.

FOR METRO JOSH LAYTON. Sabrina tidies up the area surounding the foodbank as it shuts for another day. The foodbank setup and run by volunteers at Green Lane Masjid on the 30th November 2022
Foodbank users turn up twice a week outside a storage container for emergency supplies funded through donations to the masjid (Picture: Joseph Walshe/SWNS)

Anecdotally, charities have reported increasing numbers of people who are in work turning up to make use of warm spaces and foodbanks.

Based in a red brick Victorian building, the masjid is a registered charity which offers the service to people of all faiths and from all walks of life.

The foodbank falls within a wider set of community services encompassing education, welfare, humanitarian relief and youth activities.

FOR METRO JOSH LAYTON. The foodbank setup and run by volunteers at Green Lane Masjid on the 30th November 2022
Record numbers of people across Britain have needed help to stave off hunger as the cost of living crisis intensifies (Picture: Joseph Walshe/SWNS)

‘Poverty doesn’t discriminate,’ Mr Ali said.

‘Although we are an Islamic faith establishment, we are a community centre as well.

‘More than half the people who use the foodbank are non-Muslims and come from all sorts of backgrounds.

‘In terms of age, it is also right across the board.’

In his autumn statement, the chancellor announced £26 billion in targeted support to protect the most vulnerable from the intensifying financial pressures.

This includes additional cost of living payments of £900 for more than eight million households on means-tested benefits, £300 to pensioners and £150 to people on disability benefits.

Jeremy Hunt also confirmed that benefits like universal credit will rise in line with inflation.

On the ground, Joanne and many others are likely to continue falling back on their communities as they struggle to put meals on the table over Christmas.