Coronavirus: Portsmouth, Havant and Gosport see sharp increase in foodbank use

FAMILIES have been pushed to the edge during lockdown as food banks see a sharp rise in uptake and free school meal numbers continue to increase.

Wednesday, 24th February 2021, 12:54 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th February 2021, 12:59 pm

Government data shows a steady increase in the number of pupils eligible for free school meals.

In response, food banks across the area have stepped up to the plate to help feed desperate families.

The percentage of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals increased in Portsmouth schools from 21.4 per cent in 2018/19 to 24.7 per cent in 2019/20, with a similar increase in Hampshire from 10.4 per cent in 2018/19 to 12.3 per cent in 2019/20.

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Food lunch packs for those who are in need of free children’s meals over the half term holiday. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Nationally, there was an increase from 15.4 per cent to 17.3 per cent. This means Portsmouth has a higher than average rate of children needing access to this support.

Children in state-funded schools are entitled to receive free school meals if a parent or carer receives certain benefits including Universal Credit.

Volunteers and charity founders have worked hard throughout the pandemic to make sure families have access to sufficient food, and food banks have seen a huge increase in those in need.

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Demand for food parcels in Hampshire doubles as families struggle to survive
Hampshire pupils known to be eligible for free school meals in primary and secondary schools

Sam Hanson, project manager at Portsmouth Foodbank, said: ‘We noticed a huge demand during the school holidays, where nearly two-thirds of all people fed were FSM families.

‘With the Marcus Rashford appeal and the subsequent government help, we saw a 61 per cent drop in FSM families fed.

‘This highlights the huge impact that government funding has on the people we feed.’

In 2018, the food bank fed 6,368 people which increased to 7,548 in 2019.

Jacobs Well Care Centre in Gosport has supported the community throughout the pandemic. Pictured: Lorraine Pottinger, managing director

However, 2020 saw this almost double to 13,655 people who needed food.

Sam observed that 52 per cent of people fed by the volunteers from The King’s Church in 2020 had never visited a food bank before and had been affected by Covid-19.

A similarly dramatic increase in need can be seen in other areas locally, as shown by the hard work from volunteers at Jacobs Well Store Cupboard in Gosport.

Free school meal eligibility over the past three years has increased in Portsmouth and Hampshire

Between 2018 and 2019, the charity’s books increased from 2,455 families and individuals to 2,989, but again this sharply increased to 4,300 in 2020.

Lorraine Pottinger, managing director, said: ‘We have definitely seen a dramatic rise in families needing extra help in 2020 from previous years.

‘Prior to the pandemic we would see the rise only at Christmas time, now it is weekly.

‘One observation I have made which I find interesting is the amount of teachers and social workers on our list collecting food for particular families in their care.

‘They really have been going above and beyond to support these families, particularly the teachers often coming to us outside school hours for help.

‘My feelings are a lot of the time parents are having to wait too long to access their benefits which can mean they have no income or very little income.’

Portsmouth pupils known to be eligible for free school meals in primary and secondary schools

A fivefold increase in food parcels from FoodBank PO9 in Leigh Park has been seen over the past two years, with an average week in 2020 seeing 25 parcels delivered to the community compared with five parcels a week in 2018.

However, Darren Mckenna who runs the service said at the height of the first lockdown there were 60 parcels being given out each week for three weeks.

Darren said: ‘We have seen our demographic shift radically as our largest group we’ve supported have been families affected by furlough and redundancy who have not been eligible for FSM.

‘After the high profile support for extending funding over school holidays for those already in receipt of support, we are seeing a missed demographic that sits in the low to middle income that are struggling to feed their families that wouldn’t have before.’

There are other food banks across the Havant area including Beacon food bank and Waterlooville food bank, so food parcel provision in the borough is not just covered by PO9.

Various factors have contributed to rise in need over school holidays

PEOPLE who have never had to access charitable services before are suddenly finding themselves in the position where food banks are the only option to feed their family.

The effects of coronavirus have been felt by everyone, regardless of their situation, as people have been furloughed or lost jobs and income.

Lorraine Pottinger, from Jacobs Well in Gosport, has noticed various reasons why parents need extra help in half terms or school holidays.

She said job loss, children moving from parent to parent, and some people having to choose between heating or eating are all contributing factors.

One parent picking up food from Jacobs Well, who wished to stay anonymous, told Lorraine of their family’s struggles.

They said: ‘The lockdown has hit us hard and when the kids are at school it is easier as they get a meal, but in half term or lockdown the kids are at home and therefore eat more.

‘I try to limit snacks but my money does not go far enough and without being able to come here I don’t know what I would do to feed them.

‘I have been on furlough for a year and my husband has lost his job so our money coming in is half of what it was and we still have the same bills.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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Food bank use over the past three years has increased in Portsmouth and Gosport
Free School Meals numbers have increased each year