‘Many are shocked to find themselves asking for help’: More families turn to food banks for help

With child poverty levels soaring to new heights and the pandemic heaping hardships on families, many more are turning to food banks for help.

Liz Jermy, from Oswestry and Borders Food Bank
Liz Jermy, from Oswestry and Borders Food Bank

But reliance on food banks has risen even further over the past year, with a change also seen in the types of people needing support.

Karen Williams, project lead at Food Bank Plus in Shrewsbury, which is based at Barnabas Church Centre and Hope Church, said: “We’ve seen a year on year rise with food bank use. Previously we were seeing a lot of people going on universal credit.

“This week we are opening for the first time in the evening, on Wednesday, for the people who work. Our cohort has changed significantly.

"We are getting referrals from employers on behalf of their staff. For a lot of people, if they never expected to use a food bank it can be overwhelming.”

Liz Jermy, from Oswestry and Borders Food Bank, said the past year had been “hectic” with a 55 per cent increase in people accessing its services.

She said: “We’ve seen a changing face of food bank users. People who have never had to use food banks or apply for benefits before.”

She said sometimes it was due to people being put on furlough or because of illness.

“A lot of people have been worried, feeling like they don’t qualify for food bank help,” she said.

“They may feel shock that they are in that situation, anger and feeling worried about what’s going to happen next.

“Poverty can be very hidden in rural situations because it’s not necessarily seen. We are here for as long as people need us.”

Karen Williams, project lead at Food Bank Plus in Shrewsbury

Between March 17, 2020 and March 18 this year, the food bank helped 4,446 people and had received 47.5 tonnes of food from businesses, charities, supermarkets, schools, churches and individuals. Telford Crisis Support has operated a food bank in Telford &Wrekin since 2013, with a base in Sutton Hill.

Teresa Roe, of Telford Crisis Support, said it supplied about 50,000 meals in 2019/20 but the demand had grown to 37,000 in the six months between April and September last year alone.

She said: “It has massively increased and we will probably see a further increase.

“There have been a lot of people made redundant, furloughed or their money doesn’t meet their outgoings.

“During the pandemic, we’ve seen people who have lost their jobs.

“People are quite embarrassed to use food banks or they come in quite low. Hopefully with our support they can feel better.”

Liz Jermy, from Oswestry and Borders Food Bank

Other groups, such as the Telford & Wrekin Interfaith Council, set up by borough councillor Raj Mehta, have also helped families during the pandemic.

The interfaith council has provided tens of thousands of breakfasts to children in need within the borough, linking up with Telford & Wrekin Council and other organisations.

With rising child poverty levels, the Child Poverty Action Group, is also calling for a boost to benefit payments, saying that leaders need to take urgent action.

Chief executive Alison Garnham said: “Increasing child benefit by £10 per week would lift 450,000 children from poverty.

Karen Williams, project lead at Food Bank Plus in Shrewsbury

“One year from now we should not have to look at data showing even more children have fallen into poverty because of government inaction.

“We badly need a cross-government strategy to end child poverty and increasing child benefit should be the first action point.”

Work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey said average household incomes saw their strongest annual growth for nearly 20 years in 2019-20, meaning families went into the pandemic on a “firm financial footing”.

“We have since increased our support with an unprecedented package of measures targeting those with the lowest incomes to help families through a difficult year,” she added. “Our relentless focus as we build back better is on getting Britain back on its feet through our multi-billion-pound Plan For Jobs.”

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