Chichester district foodbank sees demand increase by a third during pandemic

Demand at the Chichester district foodbank increased by a third in the first six months of the pandemic, as the impact on jobs left people struggling to afford essentials.

Monday, 16th November 2020, 4:15 pm
Volunteers at the Chichester District Foodbank

Between April 1 and September 30, the foodbank – which has branches in Chichester city centre, Selsey, Midhurst and Petworth – fed 1,998 people, including 814 children.

This was a rise of 33 per cent on the same period last year, or an extra 496 people.

Joanne Kondabeka, chief executive officer of the Chichester District Foodbank, said coronavirus was the clear cause of the rise – with demand in April 84 per cent higher than the previous year.

While figures returned to a ‘more normal’ level over the summer, demand started to increase again in October, perhaps as people faced heating bills again, she said.

There had been fears that furlough coming to an end would lead to a further increase in demand, but the extension of the scheme seems to have avoided this, Mrs Kondabeka said.

Over the course of the pandemic, many people have lost their jobs, while others are struggling to get by on reduced incomes.

“Our data shows that for the large majority that are coming to us, it’s because of low income,” Mrs Kondabeka said.

“It could be the fact that many are now having to live on the furlough scheme, which means their money has been cut.

“If you’re earning the minimum wage, then with 80 per cent of that, you probably can’t live on.

“You’re only just living on it before, you need 100 per cent to live on.”

She said the people in Chichester who had been most affected were those who both lived and worked in the area, rather than residents who commuted to London and tended to be wealthier.

For people who work in Chichester, she said: “The kind of jobs that people do are tied with the hospitality sector, or things like hairdressing, the service sector.

“I think that’s why we’ve seen an increase in people.”

Another reason was people struggling to get by on universal credit, she said.

Despite the fact that the Government had increased the allowance by £20 a week, she said: “Actually that’s still not a lot.

“If you’re having to live on that, for families that have suddenly been thrown into that, it’s quite difficult.”

Demand expected to rise

Looking forward, Mrs Kondabeka said that December was always busy and that the foodbank was expecting demand to increase further. “We definitely do envisage that we will see a rise.”

She said she was pleased that the Government had agreed to fund free meals for the poorest schoolchildren over the Christmas holidays, in a u-turn sparked by footballer Marcus Rashford’s emotive campaign.

“To be perfectly honest, it isn’t the foodbank’s responsibility to be feeding people, it’s the Government’s, whoever the Government is,” she said.

“Especially when they don’t provide enough money in the benefits system to be able to pay for lunches throughout the holidays.

“The reason they do free school meals is because the benefit that they pay families doesn’t cover it.”

This year the foodbank, which usually provides lunches during the two-weeks of Easter, provided lunches for the two weeks preceding it too, because the Government scheme had not been implemented yet.

They fed 837 children across the district during this period.

Overall in the area, the number of children eligible for free school meals has increased by almost 50 per cent – which Mrs Kondabeka said she was ‘quite shocked by’.

The pandemic has forced the foodbank to completely overhaul the way it gets food to those who need it and start delivering food packages to people’s homes.

Mrs Kondabeka thanked everyone who has supported it.

“The local community has been absolutely amazing. They’ve given financially, they’ve given food, they’ve given their time,” she said.

“We’ve been very grateful to the community and how they’ve rallied round.

“It’s helped us get through a challenging time.”

A national trend

The rise in demand in Chichester district reflects the national trend.

Across the UK, food bank demand in the six months to September increased by 47 per cent compared to the same period last year, according to the Trussell Trust.

More than a third of food parcels went to children during this period – 470,000 in total.

The Trussell Trust has warned that these figures are ‘the tip of the iceberg’ – as they do not include the number of people helped by community organisations, independent food banks and local authorities.

Emma Revie, the charity’s chief executive, said volunteers have been working hard to support people in need, but added it is ‘not right that any of us are forced to use a charity for food, at any time of year’.

She said: “In the last few weeks we’ve seen incredible compassion and concern for people facing hunger following Marcus Rashford’s brilliant campaigning, and it’s hugely welcome to see the Government build on steps already taken by providing significant new funding for local councils in England.

“This vital local support must work in co-ordination with a national welfare system that is strong enough to act as a lifeline to anyone struggling to afford the essentials.

“This pandemic has shown the unexpected can hit us suddenly, with devastating consequences for people’s lives, but it’s also shown we can make huge changes to the way we live and look after each other.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We are committed to making sure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected and we’ve put in place a strong package of support to ensure children and their families do not go hungry during this pandemic.

“Our additional £400 million of funding includes £170 million to help families stay warm and well-fed this winter, a further £16 million to provide immediate support to frontline food aid charities, and £220 million Holiday Activities and Food programme.”