Wandsworth Foodbank Use More Than Doubles

135% increase in food parcels handed out from beginning of pandemic

Food parcels ready for collection at St. Mark's Church. Picture: Wandsworth Foodbank
Food parcels ready for collection at St. Mark's Church. Picture: Wandsworth Foodbank

Wandsworth Foodbank has reported a record spike in the number of people using its services during the coronavirus pandemic.

There was a 135 per cent increase in emergency food parcels given out across the borough during the last two weeks of March this year compared to the same period in 2019.

This was even worse than the national picture. The Trussell Trust, which helps run a number of food banks across the country, including Wandsworth Foodbank, reported an 81 per cent increase in emergency food parcels across its network in the same period.

Wandsworth Foodbank Manager, Dan Frith, said “‘We’re seeing people whose income has suddenly stopped or reduced significantly due to loss of work or illness.

“But even when people’s incomes haven’t changed, those on the lowest incomes have been hit hard by rising costs – for instance of children being at home, and by being forced to buy more expensive food than they would usually, because of rising costs and April’s empty supermarket shelves.”

Data from Wandsworth Foodbank also showed 145 per cent more parcels going to children.

Food parcels ready for collection at St. Mark's Church. Picture: Wandsworth Foodbank
Food parcels ready for collection at St. Mark's Church. Picture: Wandsworth Foodbank

“One mother had to use the food bank for the first time after her monthly shopping bill doubled,” said Mr Frith.

“She’d had to buy pasta for £1.70 a bag because the supermarket had run out of her usual 50p bag. Another mum of a child with special needs told us the price of nappies in her local shop had soared from £6 to £10. For some of us, our income can stretch temporarily during this time; for others it can’t, and they’re pulled into extreme hardship,” he said.

Pam – not her real name – was also referred to Wandsworth Foodbank in April when her income from Universal Credit didn’t cover the cost of essentials.

Having worked for many years for public transport, Pam became too unwell to work.

But she was refused sickness benefits after a health assessment concluded that she was fit to work.

She has difficulty reading and writing and wasn’t able to complete the forms to challenge this decision.

When the Foodbank team called Pam to arrange delivery of emergency food supplies, they also chatted through the problems she was experiencing, and arranged for the Foodbank Adviser to give her a call. The adviser is now helping Pam to appeal the sickness benefits decision, to try to maximise her income as someone with a long-term health problem.

Pam said: “I just needed a little bit of help. I’d worked all my life before I got ill, but Universal Credit treated me like nothing. I felt lost and alone, as if no-one was listening. I thought ‘I can’t keep living just off painkillers’.

“Money is very difficult at the moment, so it was really helpful to receive the food delivery – and to get a call from the Foodbank Adviser. She’s going to help me. I’m really pleased – it’s like a burden off my shoulder. They’ve all been so good to me, and so understanding.’

Today Wandsworth Foodbank thanked the “many generous people across Wandsworth” for their donations and the “amazing team of volunteers” who have continued to put themselves on the frontline to deliver vital food supplies to the homes of those who need it.

However, Manager Dan Frith said: “Now more than ever, people need an economic lifeline so they can weather this storm and come through the other side unharmed.”

Wandsworth Foodbank is joining a national coalition of charities including the Trussell Trust, IFAN, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), Children’s Society, Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), StepChange and Turn2us to urge the government to provide a Coronavirus Emergency Income Support Scheme.

This would support individuals and families who are already facing or at serious risk of financial hardship.

The coalition proposes a temporary package to increase benefits to families to help with the costs of raising children, to extend the suspension of benefit deductions to cover advance payments and to lift the benefit cap and two-child policy to ensure the support scheme benefits everyone.

Acting director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) Helen Barnard said “it is simply not right that so many more people are having to turn to food banks because they are unable to meet their basic costs.”

“We all want to help each other weather this storm, but families with children are being particularly hard hit and do not have the lifeline they need to stay afloat. Millions already caught up in poverty face deepening hardship, whilst many more risk being pulled into poverty alongside them,” she said.

“It’s vital that our social security system can act as an anchor in tough times, and keep people afloat when they need it most. While the government has introduced some additional measures, many people are still not getting the support they need to weather this storm. Temporarily boosting support to families with children would provide a lifeline to those most at risk of hardship.”

To donate to Wandsworth Foodbank click here

Sian Bayley - Local Democracy Reporter