Scandal of rising number of Leeds families grappling with food poverty problems

Linda Jackson working at a Middleton food bank in 2014.
Linda Jackson working at a Middleton food bank in 2014.
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New figures today lay bare the alarming scale of the food poverty problems facing Leeds.

The number of people in the city seeking help from selected food banks and charities to find their next meal has risen by nearly 25 per cent since the start of 2014, the Yorkshire Evening Post can reveal.

Data collected by the Leeds Food Aid Network shows that, over the course of 2014, a total of 20,306 people were referred to 12 of Leeds’s main food banks or food parcel providers.

The figure for the 12 months starting from April 2015 was 25,327 – an increase of 24.7 per cent.

And the number of food parcels given out, either informally or following a referral, rose by more than 10 per cent over the same two periods.

Four of Leeds’s main food banks – Leeds North West, Leeds South East, Holbeck and Wetherby, which between them cover the whole of the city – say reasons for the increases include changes to benefits.

Nearly half of those given assistance as a result of family benefit troubles were children.

Now the Leeds Food Aid Network and another local group, Feed Leeds, are staging an event to address the scandal of people going hungry in one of the UK’s most prosperous cities.

The event will take place at the St George’s Centre on Great George Street in the middle of Leeds from 5.30pm to 7.30pm next Wednesday, May 11.

Feed Leeds’s Sonja Woodcock said: “This is the first time these two networks have worked together to address the issue of food poverty in the city, looking at some of the causes and also highlighting some of the great work being done to support a healthy food system in Leeds.

“There will be plenty of time to network, learn more about what groups are doing across the city and opportunities to get involved.

“This event is an important step in the development of a strategic approach to food for the city.”

Referrals to food banks are typically made by people or groups such as GPs, council officials and Citizens Advice.

The informal distribution of food parcels, meanwhile, often happens through drop-in sessions or street out-reach work.

Experts in Leeds say there is “plenty of evidence” showing strong links between food poverty and ill health.

Poor diets contribute to a third of all cancer deaths as well as low birth weights and increased childhood morbidity.

They also lead to an increased number of falls and fractures involving older people.

Emma Strachan, a Leeds-based health improvement specialist at the Office of the Director of Public Health, said: “Making sure there is access to nutritious food, understanding of the importance of a good diet for a healthy life and having the time and resource to cook food that is tasty and healthy is really important.”

Holbeck Food Bank’s Hannah Pearson, meanwhile, gave a powerful insight into the dire straits in which some people continue to find themselves, even in 2016.

She told the YEP: “Not everyone has family or a support system around them and so we are trying to provide for those within our community.

“One woman said ‘I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought no one cared’. We’ve delivered to many families with young children.

“On one occasion a young boy jumped up and down saying ‘Mummy, we’ve got food’.

“However good services are, there are always people who fall through the cracks. We want Leeds to be a place where they are always caught – a city with a sense of community.”

To book a place at next week’s event e-mail mary@leedsfoodaidnetwork.co.uk.

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