The Covid crisis has placed a strain on the family budget for people who have been furloughed or lost their jobs. The biggest expense for most people is the weekly shop and, whilst corners can be cut, it’s an unavoidable outlay. The charity sector has stepped in to help people cope.
GL Communities has given out nearly a thousand food vouchers, between January and June 2021, more than the total for the whole of 2020. More people than ever before are asking for vouchers so they can use Gloucester’s food bank. The Covid crisis has hit many families in the pocket, and they need help. GL Communities issues vouchers which people can redeem for food.
- In the whole of 2019 we issued 485 Food Bank Vouchers.
- When Covid struck in 2020 that figure went up to 812, between January and December.
- In the first six months of 2021 we have issued 990 vouchers already
That picture has been repeated across the country. UK food banks saw a 325% increase in demand during the first two weeks of lockdown in April 2020, according to the bank Investec. There are now more food banks in Britain than branches of McDonalds. (2,000 compared to 1,300, according to the UK poverty charity, Turn2Us). The food charity Sustain UK says 8.4 million people in the UK live in food poverty.
Sustain says food poverty
“…can be triggered by a crisis in finance or personal circumstances but may also be a long-term experience of not being able to access or have the facilities to prepare a healthy diet. It encompasses both the affordability of food and its availability within local communities.”
Other definitions include;
‘The inability to afford, or to have access to, food to make up a healthy diet.’
The Department of Health
‘Food poverty is worse diet, worse access, worse health, higher percentage of income on food and less choice from a restricted range of foods. Above all food poverty is about less or almost no consumption of fruit and vegetables.’
Professor Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University’s Centre for Food Policy.
‘The inability to consume an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so.’
Professor Elizabeth Dowler, Emeritus Professor of Food and Social Policy in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick.
GL Communities has been contacted by people who fall within a less easily definable group – Just About Managing, or JAMs. These are people who are not necessarily on benefits, nor well-off enough to ride out the economic downturn. They are on low incomes, without the safety net of benefits or savings. A single unexpected bill can knock their financial planning off course. The Covid crisis has hit those who were Just About Managing hard and they have turned to us to help buy food.
Food vouchers can help people in this group. Anyone who needs a voucher can call GL Communities and they will be asked the reason they need to claim. That could be because of a benefit deduction, loss of income or an overspend caused by an unexpected bill.
If the request is granted, the voucher will be entered on the computer. The food bank in Great Western Road will then deliver the requested amount. GL Communities offers two types of food voucher;
- A Family Food Voucher worth £40.
- A single voucher worth £25.
‘Kate’ is typical of the appeals for help we get at GL Communities. Kate is a single mum with two children, aged 9 and 7, who lives in social housing and has long-term health issues. She had been claiming Universal Credit but was switched to a sickness-related benefit and during the change-over suffered a temporary loss of income. A GL Communities advisor authorised an electronic food voucher and Kate received a delivery from the Gloucester Food Bank to tide her over between benefits.
GL Communities’ Chief Executive, Sue Cunningham says;
“GL Communities provides a unique service based on the needs of people living in difficult circumstances. We will continue to offer help, where needed, with our advice services ready to give the support and guidance on issues like welfare benefits and debt work. We thank the Gloucester Food Bank for their tremendous work throughout the pandemic.”
Economists are expecting a Covid ‘hangover’ for some time. Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), employers have been able to place staff on reduced hours and pay during the crisis. That furlough scheme is due to end on September 30th 2021 and employers will have to re-start paying full salaries, National Insurance Contributions and payments into pension schemes.
More than three quarters of a million companies signed up for CJRS. It’s estimated by Red Flag Alert (redflagalert.com) that nearly two hundred thousand companies won’t be able to meet full salaries again. Of those, 12,600 are at risk of going bust within six months of the scheme ending and 275,000 people could lose their jobs as a result. A tsunami of demand on food banks could be coming.
The lifting of lockdown and the ending of the furlough scheme won’t draw a line under the Covid crisis and the charity sector will continue to pick up the pieces for some time yet.
- GL Communities, supports community development, advice and resources. We're dedicated to giving the very best in help and information, with a focus on community development, well-being and a money advice service. glcommunties.org.uk
- For more information about GL Communities food voucher scheme, call 01452 505544.
The Gloucester Food Bank is supported by the Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest food bank network.