This article first appeared in the Manchester Evening News on 23rd August 2020.
When lockdown began, like MPs across the country, I saw a significant spike in the number of constituents seeking out my help as a result of new financial pressures. However, it is now clear that the level of need in my constituency of Manchester Gorton, which includes some of the most deprived communities in the country, has become particularly acute.
I recently surveyed the major food banks that support my constituents to get a better understanding of the level of need in the community and how it differed from this time last year. What I found was shocking.
From April to July this year, use of these food banks has risen more than threefold when compared with the same time last year. Over the course of the four-month period, 6,056 emergency food parcels were distributed to people in need across just four food banks. These emergency food parcels supported over five thousand adults and well over three thousand children living in poverty.
When compared to the national data for food bank usage during lockdown, these figures paint a grim picture of what has unfolded across our part of Manchester. The Trussell Trust estimates that in April foodbank usage rose by 89% across the UK. But at the food banks I spoke to in Manchester, there was an eyewatering 248% increase in the usage. It is clear that thousands more in Manchester are depending on emergency food parcels in order to survive, and at what looks to be at a far greater rate than the UK as a whole.
We know that food poverty and hunger have a significant and lasting effect on children. Sadly, the data I collected from food banks across the area show that there is an acute need among young people: all foodbanks saw months where the number of parcels given to children tripled compared to last year, and two foodbanks saw a fourfold increase in need amongst children.
No parent should be forced to be dependent on charity to feed their children, but it is clear from these statistics that across Manchester this has become the only option. Families have seen their incomes collapse during lockdown as parents have lost jobs. Where families may have been just about surviving before the pandemic, many more are now suffering real hardship.
At the end of June, as lockdown was starting to ease, the Government’s Food Standards Agency released data showing that during April and May as many as 7.7 million adults had reduced their meal portion sizes or skipped meals because they couldn’t afford to eat. As well as this, they estimated that as many as 3.7 million adults sought the help of a food bank to get by.
Although the national lockdown has eased and we are now counting the months rather than weeks since the pandemic hit, foodbanks in my constituency show no signs of quietening down. In June and July, local foodbanks told me their food parcels were distributed to over four thousand people in need compared with nearly one and a half thousand at the same time last year.
While I am immensely grateful to the foodbanks in Manchester for supporting so many of my constituents during this difficult time, we need to be clear that charitable food aid must never be a long-term solution to food poverty. Everyone deserves to be able to afford to buy food and the bare essentials. The current social security net is clearly not working, and the Government’s coronavirus response package has not done enough to prevent poor families from being pushed into destitution.
That is why Labour is calling for vital social security reforms to be implemented to help address the shocking levels of poverty in our society. It is time the Government scrapped the benefit cap and the two-child limit and ended the five-week wait for Universal Credit. My constituents are already hurting from ten years of Conservative led austerity but the hardship, debt, and potential destitution that too many people, including children, are facing as a result of the pandemic has made the situation untenable.
As the furlough scheme is wound down and the scale of the economic crisis we are facing becomes apparent it is vital that we do more to support people living on the breadline.
We must do better and, I believe, we can do better. The Government must now step up and recognise the crisis of food insecurity and hunger we are facing. While some are out enjoying the Chancellor’s much touted Eat Out to Help Out scheme, we must not forget that others are still going hungry.