As part of Challenge London Poverty Week 12 - 18 October, we look at parenting in food poverty.
Pre-Covid it was hard enough for many young parents to make ends meet. Now it is much worse.
No hot meals and long-term impacts
Lorraine is one of our young parent practitioners who helped run Cook-Up and the Friday Group. She explains the impact of suspending face to face groups and how this has increased young families’ food poverty and isolation.
"The sudden closure of our face to face groups for young parents means fewer hot meals. Every Thursday, we would run our Cook-Up group. We provided the ingredients and helped parents to make their own hot meals on a budget. At our Friday Group, we would model cooking a hot meal. The groups were a lifeline for struggling young families.
"We’ve tried to continue cooking sessions online, but we can't always reach those most in need of food. The young parents we were working with are going through a lot of trauma right now. I worry about their mental health, the lack of connection. And how this will be holding them back from providing for their children. These times are going to have long-term impacts on children growing up in London now."
As well as providing food at our groups, we give out vouchers for local food banks. In recent months, we’ve given out far more. Fortunately, there’s a lot of support locally to help families in difficulties.
Brixton & Norwood Foodbank
Jon from Brixton and Norwood Foodbank told us that Covid has 'totally transformed' their whole way of working. People who need support from the foodbanks now get parcels delivered as centres are not open to visitors.
Jon says in a normal year they would support 10,000 people. This year, they’ve already supported 16,000 people in Lambeth, including 6000 children. They expect four times the usual demand in Lambeth in 2020.
Like St Michael’s, food is just part of what this foodbank offers. Part of a network supported by The Trussell Trust, their strapline is 'More than just food’.
Jon explains that for him, although the new delivery system is working well, it isn't perfect for what they are trying to achieve.
"On one side it’s a really efficient service. It also takes away that embarrassment factor for those who want to come and use the foodbank. Those bags are flipping heavy so not actually having to carry them home or pay for transport is a big win. So it makes the client’s life much easier in those ways.
On the other side, there is that lack of interaction, which lots of our clients love. They love coming and chatting to people. We even pray for people if they want us to. And people often come in and say ‘I feel so much better after coming in this morning’. We hear that all the time. So we really miss that social element."
“I get a low feeling”
Jon is right - many of the young parents we work with struggle with the idea of using a foodbank.
Lucy told us how she feels about using foodbanks and relying on others.
"I go to a foodbank once every one to two months as it supports me with the food. I am on Universal Credit. I have a benefit cap with housing allowance, so my budget is quite tight. At the foodbank church, most of the people I see are elderly or pregnant women.
I felt quite down, like a loser and shamed that I have to come and get support there. Sometimes they ask me what problem I have, which benefit I’m on. I don’t show myself as vulnerable from the way I look, so people may judge I don’t need the support.
I do appreciate their support but at the same time, I get a low feeling."
“I don’t want to tell my son”
Another of our parents who has no recourse to public funds describes how using the foodbank makes her feel:
"It makes me feel worthless. Less of a mum...When you decide to be a mum you should know how you are going to provide for them, you shouldn’t have to rely on food from anyone else... It makes me feel really down, especially sometimes when I am walking with my son. I look down. I don't even want to tell him where we are going because I don't want him to know that I am doing that.
I’m not saying anything is wrong with the foodbank. I'm grateful for it. It just makes me feel worthless. It makes me feel horrible... Before I used to not tell anyone we had no food and just stick it out. But I just had to put my pride aside and tell Sheila [the St Michael’s young parent practitioner who is supporting her]."
There is a limit to the number of times people can visit a foodbank in a year to help manage demand and supply. But Jon is clear this is flexible and based on need.
"If a client needs more food because the income is just not there, then we will look to provide that, no doubt. Where people have no recourse to public funds, we have always had a flexible policy. Certainly, where people have no income because of benefit delays, we will be much more flexible."
If you would like more information about Brixton and Norwood food bank visit their website.