Concern as food bank use in Sheffield skyrockets by 92 per cent

Sheffield Council was urged to review its support for those suffering food poverty after food bank use increased by more than 92 percent in just two months last year.

Monday, 29th March 2021, 2:55 pm

A cross-party working group was set up to consider the extent, impact and experience of food poverty in Sheffield, the current support in place and review the council’s response.

As part of the first phase of its work it considered data collected by Voluntary Action Sheffield from 19 food banks between April 13 and June 8 last year. It showed the number of households using the banks increased by more than 92 percent, from 1,144 to 2,202, during that time.

The working group said even this only showed supply and not level of need, which could be much higher.

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Food banks also said they saw lots of people with mental health issues, for whom current mental health service provision was not sufficient, and victims of domestic violence, who they do not have the skills or resources to properly support.

In a report the group said urgency around the issue was building, with Covid disproportionately affecting the poorest communities and the worst yet to come.

It added: “We are approaching the ‘cliff-edge’ as some of the temporary Covid protections and support, such as furlough, Universal Credit uplift, stay on evictions etc. are removed.”

Part of their work involved talking to those experiencing food poverty and a key message that came through these conversations was it was only the “tip of the poverty iceberg”.

This was because the root cause of food poverty was people not having enough income to meet their needs and food was a cost that could be ‘squeezed’, unlike rent.

Things people said were causing food poverty included insecure work, zero hours contracts, job losses due to Covid, problems with Universal Credit, debt and access to cheaper supermarkets.

The working group said food aid was “only a sticking plaster” and the city needed to deal with the myriad of underlying issues such as housing and employment to achieve long-term solutions.

Some people also said they felt like they could not access support as they often felt ashamed to ask for emergency food or financial aid and the council’s approaches and processes were making it harder for them to access it.

The group’s recommendations for tackling the problems included implementing a Tackling Poverty Framework, challenging stigma, ensuring people are aware of and can access support, accelerating the mapping of food support, ensuring people can access other support at food banks and working with partners across the sector.

It added: “This process has shown us we have a rich and diverse offer of food provision across our city. It’s shown us this is a strength we can build on, as we develop a better understanding of what provision is out there, and look at how we can better help people to access the right form of support for them. It’s shown us we need a strategic approach and culture that tackles the underlying, structural causes of poverty, and clear leadership to drive this complex and important agenda forwards.”