THERE HAS been an alarming 43 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of emergency food parcels being distributed by Shetland Foodbank – with more being dished out in September than in any other month since it opened.
The figures, released by the Trussell Trust, reveal that between 1 April and 30 September this year, 284 emergency food parcels were given to local people in crisis. That compares to 198 given out in the same six-month period during 2016.
September saw 60 parcels being sent out – the highest figure since the Lerwick-based foodbank began.
There will inevitably be fears that the situation will worsen again next year when universal credit is rolled out in the islands. In areas where the benefits overhaul has begun already, many claimants have faced a six-week delay in receiving their first payment.
The Trussell Trust has reported a 13 per cent increase in foodbank use throughout the UK. Its network distributed 586,907 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, compared to 519,342 during the same period last year.
Volunteer manager of Shetland Foodbank David Grieve explained that clients often waited six weeks or more to receive their first payment of different kinds of benefits, while others find their benefits are stopped while they are reassessed.
In some cases that can mean being without income for several weeks, Grieve said, but there are “a wide range of reasons why clients look for our help – and every situation is different”. In most cases it is an “unexpected combination of factors which leads people to face a crisis situation in their life”.
Trussell Trust interim chief executive Mark Ward said: “We’re seeing soaring demand at foodbanks across the UK. Our network is working hard to stop people going hungry but the simple truth is that even with the enormous generosity of our donors and volunteers, we’re concerned foodbanks could struggle to meet demand this winter If critical changes to benefit delivery aren’t made now.
“People cannot be left for weeks without any income, and when that income does come, it must keep pace with living costs – foodbanks cannot be relied upon to pick up the pieces.”
In the months leading to Christmas a number of factors, such as cold weather and higher energy bills, mean foodbanks traditionally see a rise in client demand.
Grieve said Shetland Foodbank would “make every effort to ensure that each client who seeks help will be supported with a week’s worth of food”, adding that “the huge generosity of the Shetland community has guaranteed that we have never been unable to feed our clients and we hope and pray that this will continue”.
During the harvest season significant donations have arrived from schools and churches throughout the islands. One of the Shetland Foodbank’s biggest single sources of donations is a three-day national collection held at Tesco – this year between 30 November and 2 December – and if anyone feels they can offer help at the event they are asked to contact the foodbank at St Magnus Street in Lerwick.
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