Covid: 110% increase in food bank use reveals plight of pandemic in run up to Christmas

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Richard Pallot

  • Words by ITV News Business and Economics Producer Mariah Hedges

Long before the doors open queues form in the rain for the Bread and Butter Thing, a food bank operating across Manchester that aims to help families on low incomes by selling surplus food donated from supermarkets.

Many we spoke to had never been to a food bank before this year. Security guards, barmen and charity workers. Lives turned upside down, young and old, by the pandemic.  

Helen, a first-time food bank user told me "this makes the difference between eating and not eating. Between being able to heat the house or not." 

Monika, a security guard, has had her hours cut. She’s also dropped from five to one day a week. Without the food bank she said she "would be in the gutter. Scrapping the barrel for food every day. I would have to borrow money from my children."

Andrea arrived by car. She is self-employed but isn’t entitled to financial support. She told me that this was a lifeline. "Without this I couldn't keep the mortgage paid."

They are not alone. Research conducted for ITV News reveals there has been a 110% increase in need for food banks during the pandemic.

Charities have warned urgent action is needed to significantly reduce the need for charitable food aid provision in the UK - and that the system is being stretched too far. 

The Independent Food Aid Network contacted 83 independent food banks for ITV News to provide us with data over the past two years.

These are often community led grass roots organisations from church halls to city centre operations.  It is estimated there are over 1,000 across the UK.  

What we heard repeatedly even from those within jobs is that basic wage income is insufficient. Making deliveries of supplies from charities such as Transforming Lives for Good so welcome.  

Jenny Jones, a supply teacher and mum-of-three is grateful for the Box of Hope she receives from the charity as it helps to take the pressure off.

She said: "You have to make decisions. Not have the gas so high. It's tricky now its wintertime. It is very cold."

"My kids shouldn't have to live through this. I don't think any of us should. It's very hard."

She added: "As long as we have each other we will be alright." 

Back in the city and The Apostles Church in Miles Platting has turned its hall into a foodbank to meet the need from the pandemic. 

Michael Bancroft, a pensioner, has been faced with eviction due to a fault with his benefits.

An error with Universal Credit has left him in debt for the first time in his life. Without the church he says he would be on the streets.

"It's been a life saver. I have no money for food. Without this I would have to go out stealing. If it weren't for these people I would be risking getting locked up," he said.

"I care for my ex-wife, she’s disabled and without me she wouldn’t have anyone to look after her," he added.

Rev Ellie Trimble of The Apostles Church told me the nature of need has worsened in the last three weeks.

She said: "People seem to be in a far worse position now than they ever were. So many people are in debt that affects their mental health.

"So many people are desperate and not knowing where to turn to. No, I’ve never seen that before."

Many families are being referred via schools once children tell their teachers they are hungry.  

Pastor Tony Winter told me how he has witnessed far greater food insecurity among families and young people.

He said: "I have had a girl in here not long ago and she said the last thing she had eaten was the morning before, she had some leftover porridge.

"Her mother was shutting her down. She was embarrassed. How would you feel if your kids hadn't eaten? Unfortunately, this isn't uncommon," he added.

Four miles away the Highway Hope Church provides more than food, it is a lifeline for the most vulnerable in society.  

Paul Stillwell relies on the church for meals and for a friendly face. His mental health spiralled out of control during the first lockdown. 

He said: "With all the churches and everything closing. I live alone. I felt like a prisoner in my own flat.

"Everyday seemed like the same day and through that I ended up having a big break down. I just wanted to die really."

Paul credits the church with helping him to recover and today he is celebrating his 60th birthday at the church. 

Manchester has 200 Foodbanks and we visited just five.

As the economic cost of Covid-19 widens so will the breadth of people that turn to them. To a lifeline that the UK, in 2020 and beyond, simply can’t do without.