A member of the European Parliament representing the East Midlands has paid a visit to Bassetlaw Food Bank – to find out how staff were coping with rising demand in the summer months.
Rory Palmer MEP visited the charity amid concerns things will be even more difficult for next summer, with the possibility of a bad Brexit deal – or no deal at all – likely to lead to a double-whammy of rising food prices and fewer donations to foodbanks.
He said: “I’m extremely worried Brexit could make things even worse.
“Some 30 per cent of food eaten in the UK comes from the EU, and a Brexit deal that sees food prices go up would mean higher demand at foodbanks and more food poverty.
“With higher prices at the checkouts, people would be unable to donate as much to the foodbank and the generosity of local people has been a lifeline this summer at Bassetlaw Food Bank. This vicious circle must be avoided.”
The Labour MEP has been visiting food banks and holiday hunger projects across the region over the summer to see what local communities are doing to make sure that children get fed when schools are not open.
Data from the End Child Poverty Coalition shows that 23.5 per cent of children in Bassetlaw are living in poverty.
And research by the Trussell Trust has shown holiday hunger is driven by a “perfect storm” as children are not receiving free school meals and donations fall with people on their summer holidays.
Last year’s report from The All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger estimated the loss of free school meals during the holidays adds between £30 and £40 a week to parents’ outgoings.
In July, the Bassetlaw Food Bank saw a 60 per cent increase in referrals compared to the previous year, mostly from families.
Paula Howard, manager, said: “We expect the August figures to show another rise.
“This year has been tough and demand has been growing ever since the introduction of Universal Credit in Bassetlaw which had a big impact on families who were receiving tax credits.
“We are seeing more and more new faces, and we know there are a lot of children facing holiday hunger.
“In Bassetlaw, we have a lot of big employers offering zero-hour contracts on minimum wage.
“With food prices rising and seasonal lay-offs more and more, people are struggling to cover their bills, or facing uncertainty which then causes other problems.
“With everything being said about Brexit at the moment, we expect it will start having more of an effect and the rise in demand for our services will continue well into 2019.”
As a crisis service, Bassetlaw Food Bank can only provide three parcels to any person within a six-month period, meaning other public agencies and voluntary organisations are also working hard to solve the problem.
Paula said: “Everybody is aware of the rise across Bassetlaw, it’s happening nationwide but obviously this is where our focus is.
“Bassetlaw District Council has been a great supporter and helps wherever it can, lots of councillors are doing their bit to encourage donations.
“Mr Palmer contacted us because he was specifically concerned about what could happen from a Brexit point of view.
“I’ve given him lots of data showing what the problems are and why they are occurring, and he was extremely interested.”
Mr Palmer said: “Talking with foodbank staff and volunteers in Worksop and seeing their determination to make sure children get fed was inspiring, but it is a national scandal that so many children are reliant on holiday hunger projects.
“The UK is the fifth richest country in the world; it’s outrageous that the goodwill of volunteers and donors alone determines whether or not children will be fed.
“If you are able to donate a few items to the foodbank, please do so.”
In the mean time, there is no end in sight for the country’s reliance on crisis support, but the generosity which sustains it could begin to fall short.
In July and August 2017, the Trussell Trust’s network of more than 420 foodbanks provided more than 204,525 three-day emergency supplies — but more food was distributed than were donated.
Paula said: “It’s all thanks to the general public. Without them we couldn’t do what we do, whether that’s people donating food or the dedication of 92 local volunteers to make sure that food is available to those who need it.
“Donations always drop in summer, but in September we will be distributing 20 new donation bins across the district to make it easier than ever for people to drop something off.
“We already have bins in local supermarkets and anybody is welcome to visit the distribution centres in Retford or Worksop to see how it all works and how they can help. Alternatively, we can collect from where you are if any workplaces want to arrange something.”
The food bank posts lists of current shortages at fb.com/bassetlaw.foodbank.
The distribution centres, on Lowtown Street in Worksop and Exchange Street in Retford, are open every day from 10am to 2pm.
For further information, see bassetlawfoodbank.org or telephone 01909 486770.