Foodbank Demand Soared During Last School Summer Holidays

Nicola Slawson

Foodbanks saw a 20% rise in demand for emergency food parcels for children last summer, new figures have revealed. 

Trussell Trust, the UK-wide foodbank network, is concerned the summer holidays this year will be even busier as overall demand continues to rise across the UK.

More than 87,000 food parcels went to children in the UK during the summer holidays in 2018, an increase of one-fifth on the same period in 2017, figures released by the charity show.

Over a third of all emergency food parcels distributed by foodbanks in the network go to children, but during the summer holidays, families who are entitled to free school meals during term-time face additional financial pressure.

The figures come against a backdrop of soaring foodbank use in UK. In 2018-19, food bank use escalated throughout the year with a 19% total increase, and it is expected this trend will continue, prompting concerns that foodbanks will be under increasing pressure to provide parcels to families in need. 

Salford Foodbank manager Mark Whittington said double the amount of families come in for food parcels during the summer holidays in Salford. 

Although many of the people the foodbank support are on benefits, Whittington said they are seeing an increasing number of people who are in work. 

“Whether it’s mum or dad on a low paid job, or people on zero hour contracts, they are insecure in terms of income.

“It can be people that make ends meet from week to week or month to month and it could be as simple as a phone bill or electricity bill that was higher than expected. For people who are only just managing to scrape by, it can put them in a position where they have to make a decision between paying rent and buying food.”

When you add their children being around for more meals than usual and the cost of childcare during the holidays, this puts extra pressure on families during the summer and they can really struggle, he said.

“There are some free holiday clubs, but others where you have to pay a couple of pounds a day. That adds up to quite a lot of extra money they have to find so it’s not easy for people,” he said. 

The extra demand during the summer will undoubtedly put pressure on Whittington’s team but the main issue will be that the foodbank needs to source a lot more items, which they mainly do by collections at supermarkets.

Ahead of schools across England and Wales breaking up next week, the Trussell Trust is urging people check what items their local foodbank is most in need of.

In Salford, the foodbanks provide each family with a set list of items, which is compiled by a nutritionist for the Trussell Trust network. These parcels are designed to feed a family for three days.

They include cereal, soup, baked beans, tomatoes, pasta sauce, vegetables, meat, fish, fruit, rice pudding, biscuits, pasta or rice, tea or coffee, long life fruit juice and UHT milk. Everything provided is non-perishable. 

“Most people are surprised by how much they get and say they can make it last longer than that and people often do,” Whittington said. 

While these donations are vital for helping families during the next six weeks, Emma Revie, chief executive of the charity, stressed foodbanks are not a long-term solution, and more must be done to ensure people have enough money for essentials like food.

The Trussell Trust believes tackling delays and gaps in benefits, which affect families’ ability to afford essentials, should be treated as a priority by the government.

The most immediate relief for thousands of people would be to end the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment, a key driver of need at food banks in the charity’s network.

Universal Credit, which combines six benefits payments into one, has repeatedly come under fire by politicians, campaigners and claimants. 

The wait for a first payment often means claimants struggle and accumulate debt as they are forced to take out a loan – called an advance payment – while they wait.

Whittington says the Salford food banks have seen a large increase in people coming in because of the issue.

“The Universal Credit delay alone is causing more people to have to come to us and in that situation, they often have to come more than once. Having nothing for five weeks is crippling for people.” 

Foodbank volunteers sort through donations at a warehouse.

Revie said many food banks have set up their own holiday clubs to support families whose income won’t stretch to the extra childcare and food costs. 

She added that: “No charity can replace the dignity of having enough money for the basics.

“While it’s great to see schemes in place to tackle holiday hunger, food banks and other emergency food provision cannot, and must not, be a long term solution to poverty. Ultimately, we should all be protected from needing a food bank’s help, no matter the time of the year.

“If we are to end hunger in the UK, we need to make sure everyone is anchored from being swept into poverty. The government needs to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living and work is secure, paying the real Living Wage.

“Every family should have enough money coming in for a decent standard of living. No child should face going hungry in the UK.”

In response to the figures, a government spokesperson said: “Our priority is to support people to improve their lives through work while helping low income families with the cost of living.

“That’s why we have raised the personal allowance to take 1.74 million of the lowest paid out of income tax altogether, frozen fuel duty for the ninth consecutive year, increased the National Living Wage and confirmed that the benefit freeze will end next year.

“Meanwhile, we’ve seen record high employment and wages continuing to outstrip inflation so people have more money in their pocket.”

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