Revealed: The scale of food poverty in Leeds

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Charity workers and volunteers have handed out over 26,000 emergency food parcels in a year, according to new figures which lay bare the scale of food poverty in Leeds.

Desperate residents across the city are turning to food banks and drop-in services in ever-increasing numbers as they struggle to feed their families amid the rising costs of living.

Figures from the first operational year of the new Leeds Aid Food Network - set up in 2014 to co-ordinate services in the city - also show over 56,000 meal packs were handed out through street outreach programmes in 2014.

But with the average Leeds household - let alone business - wasting 104kg of food per year, city bosses are being urged to do more to plug the gap between production and consumption and halt Leeds’ rising demand for food aid.

More and more ways are having to be found to feed the hungry in Leeds as residents continue to be gripped by the misery of food poverty.

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Just eight months ago, south Leeds had two foodbanks. It now has nine. And in east Leeds - an area with high levels of deprivation - four foodbanks have opened in the space of 10 months, with more still desperately needed.

According to figures from the Trussell Trust, which runs most of the foodbanks in Leeds, children accounted for up to 47 per cent of all food parcel hand-outs across the city - 11 per cent more than the national average.

School breakfast clubs - launched by charity FareShare and Leeds City Council - were set up in January this year at 23 schools to feed children who may otherwise have gone without - or in some cases were being fed by teachers. Now, six months later, there are clubs at 92 schools in Leeds, feeding around 6,000 children, with many more waiting to take part.

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Dave Paterson, of Unity in Poverty Action, which chairs the Leeds Food Aid Network, fears the issue has no signs of abating. He said: “From mid 2013 onwards, food bank provision has started to increase because of the needs of the city.

“I think the sad reality is with some huge welfare cuts due to come in the future, it looks like food parcels will certainly carry on and there will be a need for lots of different forms of food aid provision across Leeds and other areas.”

Dave said the network had found people turning to foodbanks due to an increase in delays to benefits, sanctions and the substantial cost of rising food prices.

Linda Jackson, who runs east and south Leeds foodbanks, says she sees people from all walks of life. She said: “There are a lot of desperate and needy people in Leeds who need help. It could be someone who’s left prison, a family struggling as their incomes won’t stretch, or maybe one has lost their income, a woman who’s fled domestic violence or young people leaving care. We see all sorts of situations.”

Next week, Dave and Linda will join a panel of experts who will gather at the YEP’s office for the next Voice of Leeds Summit - a series of round-table discussions, organised in partnership with the Leeds Community Foundation, tackling some of the biggest issues facing residents across the city. Thursday’s debate will look specifically at food poverty and how, with so much food going to waste, the city can reduce the gap between food production and consumption. Work is already underway in Leeds to intercept food destined for waste, with successful projects such as the pay-as-you-feel Real Junk Food Cafe in Armley and FareShare Yorkshire, which set up a warehouse in Holbeck in November and now supplies food to 32 Leeds charities.

Pip Goff, programmes manager at Leeds Community Foundation, who will chair next week’s summit, said: “Food is a huge part of all our lives and the gap between food production and consumption is a massive concern.

“Leeds has a range community groups and organisations actively working together to address the serious issue of food poverty and food waste but how can the city work together to reduce food waste and ensure local people can feed their families?

“We hope this latest summit will highlight some of the main barriers the city faces, publicise the good things that are happening and show how local people and business can play their part in addressing this issue.”