The side of Leeds that has more foodbanks than Co-ops

In a sad indictment of today's society, more children than ever before are being fed from foodbanks. Susie Beever reports

By Susie Beever
Saturday, 7th March 2020, 11:45 am

A cold weekday morning in February, and a warm hubbub fills a small room in a Methodist church in Hunslet, South Leeds.

In the corner, a four-year-old boy swings his legs from a chair while an elderly woman reads a copy of Aladdin to him.

Mothers are seen balancing toddlers on hips while a shelf in the corner is adorned with nappies and baby food.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

A street in Beeston, Leeds, where more than 40 per cent of children are classed as living in poverty

This is not a playgroup. It is a foodbank.

"You should have been here last week", volunteer Margaret Woodward says.

"The shelves were empty it was so busy."

Some 43 per cent of children in this part of Leeds are living in poverty, according to the most recent government data. The Leeds Central constituency, which includes this part of inner south Leeds, has the ninth highest rate of child poverty in the country when you exclude housing costs.

Leeds South & East Foodbank's Hunslet depot, which is relied on by thousands of people in this half of the city

In the south and east half of Leeds alone, the local foodbank has 10 distribution centres, with a further two opening this Spring. A quick calculation shows this means there are more foodbanks here than Co-op branches.

This number has increased from just two since 2013, with staff saying the main reason for this being the introduction of Universal Credit the same year.

But the volunteers here say most people walking through the door are not collecting emergency food parcels simply because of delayed payments or benefits sanctions; in fact, most are employed, but their low wages versus rising costs of living are leaving them, and most importantly their children, without food on the table.

The four-year-old boy's mother, Rachel, has two other children, her youngest being just two.

Poverty in Leeds in numbers

Rachel, 30, claims she has been forced to shoplift nappies during weeks that she is unable to afford extras after paying her rent, bills and feeding her children.

"I’m on Universal Credit," she says, adding, "since I’ve been on it it’s just been a nightmare.

"There is nothing left to buy the things I need for my kids. I’ll admit to having shoplifted nappies.

"I have been in Morrisons some weeks and put nappies in the trolley and realised I couldn’t afford them, so sneak out with them. If it weren’t for this place, there would be nowhere else to get food from. My children just think this place is the supermarket."

Leeds South & East Foodbank's Hunslet depot, which is relied on by thousands of people in this half of the city

Another mother, Emma, who is also 30, says her six-year-old son does not even know she comes here.

"I feel really cheeky coming here when there are probably people worse off", she says.

"But my son is my life, I always make sure he is clothed and fed before me."

Emma has been unable to work since Autumn due to severe illness, but claims that even when in work as a cleaner she struggles to meet the financial demands of life.

Read More

Read More
Bleak situation as Leeds charities are plugging the gaps in society caused by au...

Numbers calculated by the collection of vouchers at the foodbank reveal that 4,579 individual children from this small pocket of Yorkshire have been fed from a foodbank between April 1 2019, up until the beginning of February 2020.

In South and East Leeds alone, the local foodbank has 10 distributioncentres, with a further two opening this Spring

By the end of March when the count is refreshed, this figure will have likely far surpassed the figure from the previous year, when 5,125 children used the service.

Wendy Doyle, who is an Operations Manager for the Trussell Trust-run foodbank says the main problem for parents is the dilemma of "what do I pay for first?".

She said: "There is fuel, rent, school uniforms and food. Especially in the winter months there are concerns about heating.

"We are finding more and more now it’s people in work that are using foodbanks because the cost of living has gone up, but wages haven’t.

"I have a friend who is a single mother who works for the NHS. She is on a decent wage, but after budgeting all her essential payments, she’s got just £18 left. Her daughter is five."

Back at the Hunslet distribution centre, supplies quickly wane as people come to swap vouchers for food parcels.

Only three vouchers are accepted per person every six months, and one father has brought in his sixth. Margaret takes a biro and strikes a line through it, declaring it void.

"He has £214 for the month, it is very difficult when we have to turn people away," she says.

She gives him some free food supplies anyway.

Across the rest of the country, foodbank use has increased 73 per cent in the last five years, according to the Trussell Trust.

Between April 2018 and 2019, the Trust gave out 1.6m food parcels. More than half a million of these went to children.

With this upward trend, foodbanks such as Leeds South & East need the public's donations more than ever.

Bins in supermarkets are provided for shoppers to donate items, yet with an abundance of tins of beans and packets of rice, vital items are still running short.

"It's not just about tins", said staff member Nathanya Laurent.

"Things like nappies, tinned potatoes, tinned fish, biscuits and tea and coffee are always needed.

"We rely on people's kindness - without it, we wouldn't be able to help those who really need it."

Foodbank use has soared since 2013 when Universal Credit was introduced - although staff now say that most people using foodbanks are employed but in low paid jobs