Many local charities and churches who participated in our study have noted a considerable rise in the need for food aid since the start of lockdown. In the last two weeks of March food banks in the Trussell Trust network have reported seeing an 81% increase for emergency food parcels compared to the same period in 2019.
Foodbank usage has varied across the country and demand has particularly rocketed in smaller areas, with one food bank in our study noting a staggering 250% increase in usage. This need has also extended past the usual groups that would visit food banks as more people have found themselves in financial difficulties:
“We’ve had extra requests for food parcels, sometimes outside our normal hours, for people whose businesses are closed e.g. barber, and families on low incomes.”
Our findings show that during the lockdown the need for food aid has particularly increased amongst low-income households with children. The Trussell Trust has reported a 122% increase in the amount of children being fed through food parcels in the last two weeks of March. It appears that extra costs associated with home schooling are hitting low income families budgets hard.
The Department of Education has introduced a voucher system to replace Free School Meals in England, however many charities and organisations have acknowledged that it is not working as it should do. There have been reports of long waits for vouchers and vouchers not working when they are used at supermarkets. The vouchers are also not able to be used outside of big supermarkets, which are often less accessible to poorer families, particularly those headed by a single parent.
Where this scheme is failing churches, schools and charities are stepping in to fill the need:
“Those families on low income whose children would normally receive free school meals are in some cases coming to school to collect a packed lunch every lunch time as there are difficulties with the food voucher scheme. The local supermarket is not recognised as part of the scheme therefore putting extra pressure on parent/carers.”
From our findings it is not yet clear if demand for food aid has reached its peak or whether the levels of need have been sustained since.
These findings come from the report ‘Gleanings: Listening and learning to poverty under lockdown’, produced by Church Action on Poverty and JPIT.