Manchester food scheme an 'essential' safety net in cost of living crisis
Article by Granada Reports Apprentice Journalist Ajai Singh
“Without this, I’d be hungry for half of the week.”
These are the words of 74-year-old Margaret Sheridan who relies on her meals coming from a ‘Quids In’ scheme run by Southway Housing Trust in Manchester.
For just £3 per week, eligible users are able to buy £15 worth of shopping which includes bread, vegetables, meat and added extras donated by local businesses instead of it being thrown away.
For Margaret, who cared for her husband who had Parkinson's disease before he sadly passed away, this is also a rare opportunity to socialise with the staff and volunteers as her reduced mobility makes this much more difficult.
“This is somewhere where I’ll get a smile.” she says.
In the UK, around two million pensioners live in poverty, with the percentage in the North West increasing from 12% to 18% between 2014 to 2021, according to the charity Independent Age.
Wendy, who attends the service, used to be a support worker for homeless people.
However, the toll of her mental health issues led to her having to leave her job in May 2019. As a result, she relies on the scheme in order to eat.
"I was really struggling," she said due to living alone. "This has been a godsend."
"Without it, I probably wouldn't be able to eat everyday."
In April 2022, figures showed that 38% of UK adults found the cost of living crisis their biggest concern compared to 33% being worried about catching Covid.
Natalie, a volunteer and user of the service said: "It always has been a worry but I worry a lot more now about the energy bills.
"A lot of people would struggle without this service."
Being unable to go back to work full time due to having an autistic child, Natalie added that the scheme is beneficial for people's mental health - allowing people a rare opportunity to see other people.
Rodger Cairns, the coordinator of the scheme explained how the bulk of food comes from Fareshare and local communities - making sure that perfectly edible food is not destined for landfill and makes their way to those in need.
He added that both food waste and food poverty are growing issues.
Research from Fareshare found that two million tonnes of food are wasted when discarded.
Sadly, five million adults are in the grips of food poverty - with two million children not having enough to eat.
Whilst the scheme supports people with food, it is also a gateway to other services.
Rodger said: "Some of the users can't read, so they will bring me their letters to read.
"Without this, they would not have got through lockdown."
Some of the users may have only £200 per month to live on. With rising energy costs, not only is the price of food a concern, but the means of cooking can also reduce people's choices.
Some users are given only microwaveable food due to not having, or being unable to use, a cooker.
He added: "It's a genuine lifeline for people. When you've got next to nothing, it's an uplift."
Claudine Bell became a volunteer when her husband sadly passed away. Being a carer for two of her children who have mental health difficulties, she explained the benefits of being able to do this work.
She said: "It's very important for my mental health. When you can get out of the house, it helps to create a routine."
On the cost of living, Claudine is concerned.
"Lots of people are in work but are still struggling to make ends meet. It's gone up tremendously," she says.
"I have had to cut back on food myself."
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that this is a widespread issue. From the start of the year, the percentage of people buying less food has more than doubled from 18% at the start of the year to just under 40% in April 2022.
The cost of living crisis will become deeper without further intervention - the next price cap rise in October 2022 could add a further £629 to a typical energy bill.
But throughout the day, it was clear that the safety net was one of community spirit, in which people were truly grateful for the support they were given, and volunteers were determined to look optimistically at the challenges the crisis has thrown on them.