LONDON (Reuters) – British food banks are seeing more families needing their support as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic forces struggling people to seek help, charities and volunteers say.
Lockdowns and other measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus have forced businesses to close or lay off staff. The rise in those out of work has resulted in more people turning to food banks, which provide emergency food supplies to families in need.
“I was working part-time as a cleaner for evenings, and then when COVID started, we had to quit because everything was closed and our offices, they’re not opening until 2021 because people can work from home,” said Vilma Tunylaite, 40, queuing at a food bank in southwest London.
“And me, they don’t need me now.”
The latest official figures last month showed Britain’s unemployment rate had risen to 4.8%, with employers laying off a record number of staff in the third quarter.
The Bank of England has forecast the jobless rate would rise to nearly 8% by the middle of next year, despite the government extending an emergency jobs subsidy programme until the end of March.
The Trussell Trust, which runs more than 1,300 food bank centres across Britain, says it provided 1.2 million food parcels between April and September, with a huge rise in people needing its support for the first time.
It forecasts there will be a 61% increase in food parcels required across its network from October to December, the equivalent of six parcels given out every minute.
“If you look at what’s happened over the last seven months, the queues have got significantly longer, the nature of the guests who are queuing up … it’s changed to families as well as those who were living on the streets,” said Alexander Shahid Khan, a banker who volunteers at a food bank in London.
“So you can definitely see that the effects of COVID has meant there’s a lot of people suffering from income and food poverty at the moment.”
A government spokeswoman said they had announced a 400 million pound support package to help those in need for the winter and beyond, including millions for food aid charities.
“The ideal would be for the government obviously to up everybody’s payment that they get every week to a reasonable amount where they don’t have to then seek help from food banks,” said Sahar Beg, chief executive of the Tooting Community Kitchen.
“I can’t make a difference there. The only thing I can do is being here to help where we can.”
Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Janet Lawrence