The use of foodbanks in Cornwall is increasingly becoming the norm rather than the stop-gap it was meant to be, and with fuel and food prices going up and up in the past year, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.
That’s the message of those on the front line of food poverty in Cornwall who continue to witness an uplift in the number of families coming through the doors of their local foodbanks as they struggle to put a meal on the table.
According to the Trussell Trust, the national charity which supports some 1,200 foodbanks throughout the UK and a number in Cornwall, between April 1 and September 30 this year foodbanks in its network distributed 5,100 emergency food parcels a day to people in crisis. This was an increase of 11% compared to the same period in 2019.
That’s 936,000 emergency food parcels being handed out, including more than 73,000 in the South West region. Alarmingly, families with children have been hit the hardest, with food parcels for children increasing at double the rate for adults.
Between April 1 and September 30, almost 2,000 parcels were provided for children every day, compared to almost 1,700 in 2019.
Cornwall continues to be hit the hardest of all local authority regions in the South West, holding the unenviable record of having the most food parcels handed out to both adults and children during that period.
According to the Trussell Trust, 9,431 food parcels have been given to people from 21 distribution centres since April, including 5,681 to adults and 3,750 to children, making the Duchy the worst unitary authority area in the region for food poverty outside Bristol.
With winter here, the situation has been getting worse and the trust anticipates figures will rise further before the end of the year, especially with rising heating bills and food-price inflation.
Only a few weeks ago, research agency Cornwall Insight predicted that the collapse of some energy suppliers would push prices even higher. The forecast is about 30% higher than the record £1,277 price cap set for winter 2021-22, which commenced at the start of October.
Craig Lowrey, senior consultant at Cornwall Insight, said: “With wholesale gas and electricity prices continuing to reach new records, successive supplier exits during September and a new level for the default tariff cap for winter 2021-22, the GB energy market remains on edge for fresh volatility and further consolidation.”
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Fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) warned that average domestic dual-fuel energy bills, which have already soared by more than £230 per customer compared with last winter, could increase by a further £550 a year.
NEA chief executive Adam Scorer said: “Every home should be a warm and safe place, but for over 4.5 million UK households the cold reality is very different and getting much worse. The cost of living in the UK is at its highest level in a decade, with household energy bills the biggest driver.
“When the costs of essential services go up, those on lowest incomes get hit hardest. Bills have increased by well over £230 since last winter and millions now face a daily heat or eat dilemma.
“We estimate energy bills will rocket again in April, doubling the average householders’ heating bills since last year. Over the same period, those on the lowest incomes have seen their income plummet by over £1,000 per year.
“Just think about that. For people already on a budgetary knife-edge, the cost of keeping a family warm has exploded, while budgets have collapsed. No amount of useful tips or savvy shopping can cope with that.”
Energy regulator Ofgem acknowledged it was a “worrying time for many people” and warned that if global gas prices remain high the price cap would be updated, meaning that price-cap level would increase.
The result would be for consumer bills to follow through and prices to rise even more.
According to the RAC, the average price for a litre of unleaded petrol has reached a level not seen since April 2012 at £1.44 on average, which has now been topped in places and is higher still for diesel.
RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams said: “October 2021 set records for all the wrong reasons and was a horrible month for drivers with both petrol and diesel prices hitting new heights.”
For Joyce Duffin, operations manager at Transformation CPR Foodbank in the Camborne, Pool and Redruth area and a Cornwall councillor, the combination of rising food and fuel bills and low wages in Cornwall has led to an increasing number of working families seeking help from their local foodbank through the summer months and even more so since children went back to school in September.
She said: “What really helped in the summer was Cornwall Council’s decision to fund free school meals during the holidays, otherwise we would definitely have seen more people through the door.
“The number of foodbank users did increase in September, especially when the Universal Credit uplift stopped, which had a big impact on people’s finances. Cornwall Council funded free school meals for half term and that was good.
“People’s wages in Cornwall aren’t keeping up with food and fuel price rises. That’s the problem. People really are struggling.”
Some 45% of Universal Credit recipients in Cornwall are working. Also increasing is the number of food vouchers being given to families by schools in Cornwall.
Cllr Duffin said: “We’re saying that people should only be able to make use of the foodbank eight times over six months. It used to be six times but we put it up to eight.
“It’s meant to be a crisis service not the norm. People’s wages and benefits should be enough. No one should have to rely on foodbanks, but with fuel and food prices going up, it’s become the norm and that’s not right.”
The Trussell Trust said the dramatic rise in foodbank usage in the last year had been driven by people not having enough money to cover the basics, and more people than ever needing the social security system to provide a “strong enough lifeline” for them to keep afloat.
Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust, said: “Everyone in the UK should be able to afford the essentials – to buy their own food and heat their homes.
Read more: Big changes to Universal Credit
“Yet foodbanks in our network continue to see more and more people facing destitution, with an increase in food parcels going to children. This is not right.
“Our foodbank managers expect need to grow further still, saying they will need to provide more than 7,000 food parcels a day during December as many families are faced with an even tougher winter ahead. This must stop.
“The answer must be for us to have the stability of a strong enough social security system to protect any one of us when we need it. We need government at all levels to take action and are asking the public to help fight hunger and join the campaign to fight for a future without the need for foodbanks.”
In view of how desperate the situation is getting, Cornwall Council has announced that, thanks to £4.5 million funding from the Department for Work and Pensions received in November, free school meals will continue until at least Easter, meaning they
will continue to be provided for eligible children during the Christmas holiday and February half term.
Councillor Barbara Ellenbroek, portfolio holder for children and families, said: “This money from the Government will help us to continue to support those most in need over the coming winter.
“It also allows us to commit to our provision of free school meals in the holidays for the foreseeable future – it has already covered October half term and will mean that we can also give a voucher of £15 per eligible child, per week, during the Christmas holidays and February half term.”
Jacqui White, founder of Wadebridge Foodbank, said summer saw the number of people through the its doors slow as seasonal jobs helped, but now numbers have started creeping up.
She fears it could get worse in January and February as people take the hit from Christmas and credit-card bills have to be repaid.
“The people I’m most concerned about are those who have been managing but may have been a bit close to the wire,” she said. “They work but it’s tight. If things get tighter and tighter, with fuel and food prices going up, it will become harder and harder for them.
“I think they are the ones we will perhaps see through the door in the new year and that’s a worry. On the plus side, we have an amazing community who donate and help our foodbanks and we have plenty of food to donate this Christmas to people who get referred to us.
“So if you are in need of a helping hand, speak to the right referral agencies and we will be able to help.”
An interactive Help With Food map shows all the emergency food support in towns and villages across Cornwall. Visit letstalk.cornwall.gov.uk/help-with-food
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