Number of foodbank users increases 50 per cent as cost of living crisis hits

Georgia Barrow

Georgia Barrow | 10 May 2022, 11:34

The number of people using foodbanks in North Herts has increased by 50 per cent in the first four months of 2022, year on year. 

Chairman of the Letchworth Foodbank management committee, Ciaran McGill, spoke with the Comet about the challenges facing many families and the volunteers of the foodbank, as they also see a 30 per cent drop in donations since this time last year. 

The Trussell Trust-supported foodbank also runs facilities from Baldock and Hitchin. Overall, the number of people being supported by three services is increasing. 

“The numbers are definitely on the up,” Ciaran said. “I also took a look at the numbers from the last four months of 2021, compared to the last four or five months of 2020. 

“Numbers had increased in 2020 – but at a much slower rate.”

Ciaran has been a part of the committee since the service opened a decade ago. 

The team work with “in excess of 100 agencies”, including doctor surgeries, health visitors, school and Citizens Advice, which refer those in need to the foodbank user voucher system. 

Ciaran continued: “They refer them because they understand their clients’ needs.

“If somebody comes and doesn’t have a referral, we won’t send them away, we will talk to them, and probably give them a food parcel, but explain who to speak to going forward.

“The team are there to help and want to help people – they do everything they can.”

Donations come to the foodbank at varying rates throughout the year, in “cycles”. 

Between September and December is a big donations period, with Harvest Festival and Christmastime drives.

There are also permanent collection points in a number of supermarkets and offices, which provide a steady flow of donations throughout the year.

“From January, the food parcels going out will quickly exceed the food coming in,” Ciaran said.

With the number of people using the foodbanks in Letchworth, Hitchin and Baldock increasing by 50 per cent in the first four months of 2022, year on year, and the increase in the cost of living affecting many people, we asked how the team is coping with the current climate and how this may be impacting donations.

“Looking at the donations from the same time periods as previously stated, at the back end of 2020 – our biggest donation months – compared to 2021, the donations are pretty much the same. 

“This year, from January to May, is probably 30 per cent behind what it was in 2021. Donations are slowing.”

The foodbank also receives monetary donations, which Ciaran said seem to be “holding up”.

When starting the foodbank a decade ago, Ciaran said the main issue service users faced were problems with benefits – whether it was delayed payments, or delays in applications going through.

“That would have taken up a big proportion of the people we were helping,” the volunteer continued.

“Now, that’s changed. That’s still a sizeable proportion, but now it’s people on low wages. They”re in work and just not earning enough.

“That’s the biggest percentage of our clients, and I suspect that can only get worse. 

“Their income isn’t going to go up, but their costs will.”

In January last year, Letchworth Foodbank – which also serves Hitchin and Baldock – reported a “tremendous growth” in service users during the pandemic. 

The Trussell Trust, which supports a network of foodbanks across the UK – including Letchworth Foodbank – reported that it had distributed more than 2.1 million food parcels in 2021/22 – an increase of 81 per cent since 2016/17.

The cost of living crisis has affected many people across our communities, as we see energy prices, fuel and inflation soar. 

This number does not include community food hubs, such as The King’s Community Church food hub in Letchworth, or other organisations which do not require the user to show a foodbank voucher. 

Of those who responded to the Comet’s survey across Stevenage, North Herts, Bedfordshire villages and South Cambs, 78 per cent said they were worse off financially than they were a year ago.

For more information about the Letchworth Foodbank, go to letchworth.foodbank.org.uk.