Northumberland food banks issue 'grim' new year forecast as concerns mount over impact of Covid-19
Food banks in Northumberland are predicting a surge in demand for their services over the coming months.
While news of Covid-19 vaccines provides light at the end of the tunnel, food banks in Alnwick and Amble are forecasting a busy period as the economic impact of the virus takes its toll.
Clive Gibson, chairman, said: “All in all it is a pretty grim picture and we do not anticipate it getting any better anytime soon.”
A combination of rising unemployment, furlough ending in April, cutbacks in working hours, zero hour contracts and access to Universal Credit are among the main issues.
The county’s economy is also heavily reliant on the tourism sector, which directly supports over 13,000 jobs, as doubts surround when visitors will be able to return in significant numbers.
"Two-thirds (66%) of our clients are either on their own or couples and need is based around disability, isolation, age or mental health issues,” said Clive.
"The remainder are families, some very large (5+) and we are seeing more 'working poor' than we used to.
"Cutbacks in hours are common, furlough is another area we have seen grow and the dreaded zero-hour contracts still abound.
"We have the long term unemployed as well and their issues are mainly around access to, and management of, Universal Credit.
"The expected increase in restrictions coming after Christmas, plus any fallout from Brexit, could even see us actually back to lockdown 1 type numbers, but we hope it does not come to that."
However, Alnwick District Food Bank is well placed to help thanks to generous donations from the public.
It handed out around 350 parcels in December, including over 70 Christmas hampers, making it the second busiest month of 2020 behind June when 357 parcels were distributed.
“We will continue to operate at current levels, which are now the new normal, and we have the capacity to expand our services if needed,” Clive revealed.
"We are also well placed financially to maintain current, and increased, output for as long as necessary.
"We have also seen a sustained increase in food donations which is a major plus for us and we hope this can continue.
“In short, a massive increase and we do not anticipate any change, other than up, for the foreseeable future.”
Amble Food Bank has seen a 300% surge in requests over the past year and now has over 100 families on its regular contact list. It delivered 93 Christmas Day meals.
Bill Cruikshank, coordinator of Amble Food Bank, said: “The future is uncertain, however we do know many families will be feeling in financial straits after Christmas alone.
"Together with ongoing furloughs and layoffs, our services are going to continue to be needed.
"We ask for the continued support of organisations, including food banks, that help families through a crisis such as these times.”