Food bank usage this Christmas has sky-rocketed – with levels double those recorded pre-pandemic.
As many people across Kent tucked into their long-awaited Christmas dinners, many families continued to struggle to put food on the table.
Kent food bank says numbers needing help have doubled
At at least two food banks the number of meals being handed out more than doubled those distributed in 2019.
It comes amid the ongoing impact of the pandemic, the withdrawal of the universal credit uplift and rocketing fuel prices.
Street outreach programme the Gillingham Street Angels helps families and those in need.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas it supplied essentials to almost 10,000 people.
The grassroot charity’s chief executive, Neil Charlick, said: “This year the figures have increased massively. I think the figures we have already recorded already are 9,800 people were fed in the month of December.
“It’s just over double what the programme fed last year.
“With the pandemic, furlough finishing and now the worry of people going into another lockdown, the numbers are increasing and people are panicking.”
The food bank reopened today after shutting over the Christmas and Boxing Day weekend.
But sourcing enough volunteers to keep the centre running all year long has been a struggle, with some having to self-isolate due to Covid-19, amid other factors.
Mr Charlick said: “I don’t think it’s just the Omicron, I think people have now gone back to work. The volunteer levels have gone down in all charities.
“I think everyone is in limbo – no one really knows what is going on.
“We just keep our head down and keep pushing and do what we can.”
Elsewhere, chairman of Canterbury Food Bank Martin Ward said something was “seriously wrong” when reflecting on this year’s numbers.
This month alone, up to Christmas Eve, the food bank issued 1,134 parcels – equivalent to 10,206 meals. It represented an increase of 4% on the same period last year and 59% on 2019.
“There is something seriously wrong with society when charities that provide emergency aid become accepted frontline support services,” said Mr Ward.
“Canterbury Food Bank is pulling together its end of year stats and they are breathtaking.”
Looking at the latest year-on-year figures up until November this year, the charity processed 7,304 parcels – which equates to 65,736 meals, he said. This represented a 21% increase over the same period the previous year.
But the really staggering statistic, he added, was that the charity is now providing almost twice what it distributed pre-pandemic, when it processed 3,700 parcels.
“The largest proportion of the increases is in support for children,” the charity boss added. “The main reasons are redundancy, longer term unemployment, benefit issues and debt.”
Mr Ward has called for changes in government policy to prevent further people falling into poverty and to offer additional support for those already affected.
Meanwhile, one food bank in Faversham says while it is under pressure it is determined to make sure the Christmas period is still a “special time” for struggling families.
“We always try and ensure families get exactly what they want and need,” said Beth Munn, chairman of trustees at Faversham Food Bank.
“One of the things we are really passionate about is making sure they get that extra Christmas touch,” she added.
“Cadburys are incredible actually. They donate a huge amount of selection boxes to us so families can get that which is fantastic.”
The food bank has also worked with Tesco this year as part of an appeal.
“We did a toy appeal and we were able to provide toys to every single family that were referred to us,” adds Ms Munn.
“So everyone is getting a gift as well as support. We can only do that because of donations given and we can only do that because of the generosity.”
The government removed the Universal Credit uplift – a temporary measure brought in to help claimants weather the storm of the pandemic – in the autumn.
It comes despite broad opposition from cross-party MPs, charities and think tanks.
But the government says it is providing “extensive support” to those on the lowest incomes, including putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families on Universal Credit, increasing the minimum wage and helping with the cost of fuel bills.
It also points to a £500 million Household Support Fund to help the most vulnerable with essential costs this winter, and councils have also been given an extra £65 million to support low-income households with rent arrears.