A SALVATION ARMY minister, Major Ralph Walker, has been serving in Luton for seven years. Over the past few months in particular, he has seen dramatic increases in demand for the emergency support that his church offers.
“People are queuing out the door in the morning for the foodbank. It wasn’t like that a couple of years ago. Each person waiting wants to share a story of hurt and pain, and it is heart-breaking to listen to people’s stories.”
One 83-year-old woman arrived, tears pouring down her cheeks, Major Walker said. She was fearful of losing her home, because of unpaid bills. Until a few months ago, she had been managing, but rising food and fuel prices had left her unable to pay bills and she had them “on her back”, he said. He sees many people like her, once managing well on smaller incomes, who are now sinking into debt.
He was able to give her food and fuel vouchers and to put the debt-advice team in contact with her debtors, to try to ensure that she keeps her home.
The Salvation Army in Luton runs a foodbank, a debt-advice centre, a school-holiday club, and other groups, providing food, clothing and advice, for those who are struggling or isolated. To those who can still afford to use a cooker, the Salvation Army supplies food parcels. For those who can not, it supplies hot meals. Major Walker is a former chef, who trained under Charles Forte. He is helped by his wife, Maxine, and there are few others to support their growing workload.
The need is soaring, Major Walker says, and he fears that what his church can offer is only touching the edges, but “we do our best.”
It has become increasingly apparent that those who previously donated items to the foodbank are turning up in need of its food parcels themselves.
“We are now seeing people who used to donate food to the foodbank using the foodbank themselves. These aren’t people on benefits, but . . . average families struggling to make ends meet. Parents who have jobs are going without food to feed their children — families where children don’t have a hot meal across the entire school holidays.
“We feed people every day, throughout the year. Last week, we put on a holiday club to feed children [eligible for] free school meals. We opened up the building to give children and their families a hot meal. On the first day, we had 40 booked in but nearly 100 turned up, and it grew each day.
“We have had to increase the amount we offer to meet demand during the past seven years. Pre-pandemic we gave out 30 food parcels a week, now it’s 250 to 300. . .
“We’ve experienced growing demand for fuel vouchers and food and clothes and it has dramatically increased, it’s far worse since January.
“Our debt-advice service has a massive waiting list, people are just sinking into debt.”
Major Walker wishes that the Government would deliver its payments to the most vulnerable faster (News, 18 March).
The Salvation Army saysthat it has received “unprecedented” demand from parents worried about feeding their children over the past few months. It has called for benefits to be uprated to keep up with inflation.
Lieutenant-Colonel Dean Pallant said: “When I hear Salvation Army officers report that ‘people are on the bones of their knees’ and they have seen children who are ‘anorexically thin’, it sounds like something from 1865, when the Salvation Army was founded, not 2022.”
“Can’t afford food for children or cats. . . What is there to grin about?”Churches across the country have been stepping in to support families through the summer holiday in particular, offering food and free school uniforms.
About 150 picnic lunches are being given out from Monday to Thursday during the holidays at churches in Jarrow and Simonside, part of a “Places of Welcome +” network set up in January.
The Anglican churches in Levenshulme, Manchester, are running a school-clothing bank to provide free school uniforms.
Many families are also attending Make Lunch clubs run by the Christian children’s charity Transforming Lives for Good (TLG) in partnership with churches. Hot, healthy meals are offered to thousands of families suffering from food insecurity.
TLG’s founder and chief executive, Tim Morfin, said: “It is what many are referring to as the cost-of-living crisis. However, here at TLG, we call it what it really is: the cost-on-childhood crisis.
“Through no fault of their own, children are being thrown into poverty, having to skip meals and go without essentials, due to ever-rising costs of food, fuel, and household bills. Many of them face devastating struggles as a result, including emotional turmoil and impacted opportunities.
“The rising cost of living is impacting children in many ways. Already stretched finances is resulting in parents having reduced capacity to provide activities, clothing, toys, and even food and other basic needs for them. Meanwhile, many children are being impacted mentally and emotionally by the increased anxiety and stress that they and their parents will be facing as they navigate the rising costs.”
Many of these were families that had been in “crisis mode” for many years; this was a strain too far, he warned.
The Trussell Trust does not yet have figures for demand for its foodbanks over the summer, but it says that anecdotal reports suggest increasing demand, particularly for goods that do not have to be cooked. This is likely only to get worse into autumn and winter, it says.
The trust’s head of policy and research, Polly Jones, said: “Last year, foodbanks in our network distributed over 2.1 million food parcels; 832,000 of these parcels went to children. More recently, we have seen the need for emergency food soar.
“Summer can be a difficult time as parents with already over-stretched budgets try to find money for extra meals during the holidays. That’s because hunger in the UK isn’t about food — it’s about people not having enough money. This isn’t right. At foodbanks, the struggles we see many families face with the lack of free-school-meals support reflects the inadequacy of our social-security system. The UK Government must make sure families on the lowest incomes have enough money all year round: we need a long-term commitment to strengthen our social-security system so that everyone can afford the essentials in life.”
To donate to the Salvation Army’s work in Luton, visit www.salvationarmy.org.uk/luton
For TLG’s cost of living appeal, visit TLG.org.uk
Read an article in this week’s Comment section on the cost-of-living-crisis here