10-fold increase in demand at Shropshire food banks amid pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic saw a 10-fold increase in demand at some food banks across Shropshire, it was revealed today.

Karen Williams, Emma James and Dave Grace at the Project Food Bank Plus in Shrewsbury
Karen Williams, Emma James and Dave Grace at the Project Food Bank Plus in Shrewsbury

Shropshire Food Poverty Alliance has reported a dramatic increase in food poverty across the county since the pandemic took hold.

The organisation’s co-ordinator Emily Fay revealed there had been a 10-fold increase at one unidentified food bank.

She said the pandemic saw many people using food banks for the first time and that the Covid-19 crisis would have a profound long-term impact, compounded by the imminent end of the furlough scheme.

“Food banks are actually reporting a change in the types of people they are supporting,” she said. “They are seeing more families but they are also seeing new people who have never really expected to use a food bank or claim benefits before.”

She said this group was challenging because many people had high outgoings and never expected to lose their income.

She added: “Existing organisational structures are not really set up to support them. The risk is that we are going to see more people falling into a chronic food poverty situation.”

Bridget Supple, of Newport Food Bank said: “During lockdown, we were feeding at least 162 people a week, whereas in normally that could be between 10 and 40.”

Karen Williams, project manager of Shrewsbury Foodbank Plus, said she was bracing herself for a surge in demand when the furlough scheme finished at the end of October.

She said demands on the service, based at Barnabus Community Church in Longden Coleham, saw a sharp spike when the lockdown restrictions were first imposed at the start of March and she expected another spike over the winter.

The impact of the Covid-19 crisis has surprised members of Shropshire Food Poverty Alliance, which had been expecting a rise in demand. As it happened, some services in the county saw requests for food parcels rise 10-fold.

Co-ordinator Emily Fay said: “There is a distinct change in the types of people we support. Those coming now have often never been before or ever thought they would need out help.”

Mrs Fay said there was a big rise in applications for Universal Credit in spring made by people who were unable to claim furlough.

“This corresponded with a rise in food bank usage,” she said.

Karen Williams at the Project Food Bank Plus in Shrewsbury

“We are concerned with what will happen this autumn and winter, particularly with the end of the furlough scheme.”

Newport Food Bank spent much of the spring and summer helping families whose children would normally be getting free school meals. It distributed more than 50,000 meals over lockdown and within that kept 104 children fed daily. Bridget Supple, is among those who has been flat out to meet demand. She says a normal week would have seen 10 to 40 people being helped, but that figure rose to more than 160 in lockdown.

Karen Williams, project manager of Shrewsbury food bank Plus, said she had also noticed a change in the profile of people using the service.

“Before the lockdown there were a lot of single men, but since the outbreak there has been a rise in the number of families using the food bank,” she said.

“It is not so much people on benefits now, it is the unemployed who have lost their jobs.”

Despite the extra demands, Mrs Williams said she was confident there would be no problem meeting the requirements.

Rob Field, of the Welshpool & District Food Bank, said he was expecting a rise in demand as furlough came to an end.

He said demand had been steady during lockdown. The charity, part of the Trussell Trust, helped an average of 20 people a week, distributing just over one ton of food every month.

“We haven’t seen any large increase since the pandemic at all, although we might see an increase when the furlough scheme finishes,” said Mr Field.

Karen Williams at the Project Food Bank Plus in Shrewsbury

Mr Field said the Government’s extension of free school meals during the summer holidays had played a major role in keeping demand down.

The Trussell Trust estimated demand at its food banks would increase by 61 per cent over the winter.

The charity which operates more than 1,000 food banks across the UK, commissioned a study by Heriot-Watt University, with support from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

The charity warned that, with mass unemployment being predicted, there would be further rises in poverty with 670,000 additional people classed as destitute by the end of 2020, meaning they cannot afford essentials like housing, energy and food.

The trust added that even before Covid-19, it’s food banks saw a year-on-year increase in levels of need, with 1.9 million emergency food parcels given out in 2019/20.

As the pandemic struck, the trust said it saw an immediate and sustained surge in need across its food banks.

As well as the Welshpool food bank, the Trussell Trust offers similar services in Market Drayton, Oswestry and Whitchurch.

In April the charity experienced an 89 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of emergency food parcels given out compared with the same month in 2019, including a 107 per cent increase in the number of parcels given to children.

Kim Bromley, Irene Evans, Sarah Higginson and Liz Mountford at Newport Food Bank

The latest data shows that almost 100,000 households received support from a food bank in the Trussell Trust network for the first time between April and June.

The report added that rises to some benefit levels and the job retention scheme prevented many more people from facing destitution, but warned that with these schemes set to end, the Government must continue to take action.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said she was looking for help from Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

“Communities throughout the country have shown enormous resilience in helping more people than ever before,” she said.

“But food banks and other community charities cannot continue to pick up the pieces.

“None of us should need a charity’s help to put food on the table.

“Our research finds that Covid-19 has led to tens of thousands of new people needing to use a food bank for the first time.

Liz Mountford, Kim Bromley, Sarah Higginson and Irene Evans at Newport Food Bank

“With the furlough scheme set to wind down, we must act now to put in place protection for each other.

“The Budget and Comprehensive Spending Review presents a pivotal opportunity to put things right.”

A government spokesman said action was being taken, saying: “We have provided £9.3 billion extra welfare support to help those most in need, including increasing Universal Credit by up to £20 a week, as well as introducing income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and additional support for renters.

“Meanwhile, since mid-March we’ve supported 3.9 million claims to Universal Credit and made 1.3 million advance payments to people who could not wait.

“We have already taken steps to help ease the burden of Universal Credit debt repayments.”

Mrs Fay said anyone in need of support should see the shopshirelarder.org.uk website, which listed all the food banks in the area and other organisations which could provide support.

Additional reporting by Keri Trigg, Local Democracy Reporting Service

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