Warning that foodbank parcel figures in Norwich are only 'tip of the iceberg'
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Norwich's foodbank organiser has warned new figures showing a rise in emergency food parcels during the pandemic are just "the tip of the iceberg".
The number of emergency food parcels distributed in the Norwich Trussell Trust network increased to 14,717 between April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021 compared to 11,853 from the previous year's figures.
Of these parcels, 5,106 were for children and 9,611 were sent to adults by the Norwich foodbank, increasing from 4,447 and 7,406 respectively.
The figures reflect the majority of the pandemic, a time when thousands of people lost jobs, were furloughed, lost access to vital support and found themselves in unstable employment.
Hannah Worsley, Norwich foodbank project manager, said the Trussell Trust figures did not include the individuals and families supported by the hundreds of independent foodbanks.
She said: "We saw a significant increase from 2019/20 to 2020/21 as the figures show and we know there are more people out there who are in need but either don't know how or where to turn for help, are embarrassed to ask or genuinely feel they are not entitled to support as someone is worse off than them."
Sarah-Jane Douglass, from Thorpe Marriott, started an independent foodbank around Christmas with Gerry Munday, from Taverham, having seen the need for support since launching the Thorpe Marriott, Taverham and Drayton Covid-19 Help Group in March 2020.
Now they run weekly, from 10.30am to 12.30pm at Longdale Pavilion, operating a no questions asked policy and helping roughly 20 families a week.
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“We have some people who have found work so their benefits have finished, people who have lost their jobs,” she said. “I know there’s more people out there who are just too proud.
“I had one lady who, when we dropped her first parcel off, she just cried.”
The Trussell Trust figures for the 180 distribution centres across the East of England shows the total number of food parcels increased from 190,039 in 2019/20 to 244,595 in 2020/21.
And the total across the United Kingdom has also risen from 1.9 million to 2.5 million.
The Norwich foodbank is working with the Trussell Trust and others in the network on its Pathfinder Project, in line with the charity's strategy to end the need for foodbanks.
Mrs Worsley said: "During this past year we have had a lot more people referred to us due to work related issues - furlough, reduced hours, zero hours contracts, child care issues - as well as continued benefit delays and changes and debt which we see year in year out.
"One family emailed their thanks saying they had been struggling for months, just about making ends meet but 'this week finally ran out of money and options'.
"So often we hear from those we serve that while the food of course is important, it's also the care shown by strangers who have donated the food or money enabling us to serve them and that's what is really appreciated."
Chris Elliott, corporate relations officer at The Feed, a not for profit social enterprise working to stop food poverty, said the team had launched a community fridge at its Prince of Wales Road base in August last year in response to growing demand.
Currently around 100 people take 600kg worth of food from the fridge each week.
“There are some people who need to use it consistently,” he said, “but there’s also fresh people finding out about it.
“There has been more unemployment [in the pandemic], people might have lost jobs or be switching to benefits but sometimes there’s a lag,” he said. “For people who have been furloughed, losing that 20pc might have tipped people whose budget was already tight into needing help.
“Those small changes, for people who are on the brink, really make a difference.”
He said The Feed always welcomes food donations to continue supporting those in need.
Chief executive of the Trussell Trust, Emma Revie, is urging the public to write to their local election candidates for a commitment to working to end the need for foodbanks.
She said: "No-one should face the indignity of needing emergency food. Yet our network of foodbanks across the East of England have continued to provide huge numbers of emergency food parcels as more and more people struggle without enough money for the essentials.
"This is not right but we know we can build a better future."