FOOD PARCELS: 4000 delivered through Solihull project
Four thousand food parcels – many destined for residents in “absolute poverty” and those left reeling by coronavirus – have been delivered through a Solihull project.
Volunteers have spoken about the desperate plight of families, with the Covid crisis having shone a harsh light on those who lack even the basic essentials.
Job losses, cuts in pay due to furlough and the financial turmoil of the past 12 months have meant there is a huge demand for help.
Latest data shows that, in just a year, the number of borough residents claiming Universal Credit almost doubled to more than 17,000.
And the Rainbow Alliance Kingshurst, whose small band of volunteers swung into action just days before the first lockdown, has warned the official figures are just the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s a huge problem,” said mum-of-two Jo Cole, one of the group’s founder members.
“You have to be out on the ground or I don’t think you can appreciate it.
“It’s devastating to see people living in a condition where …. they can’t afford food.”
Cllr Marcus Brain (Lab, Kingshurst & Fordbridge), who was also involved in setting up the project alongside Carol Hollingsworth, said the hardship some were facing was of a sort many assumed had disappeared decades ago.
“We have seen a return of absolute poverty … it’s definitely out there.
“People have a serious problem getting the most basic things.”
Some are said to shun benefits over fears miscalculations could force them to pay money back.
Others are apparently wary of traditional food banks where people have to explain “how horrendous their financial situation is.”
Ms Cole, who has lived on Kingshurst for 25 years, said the Rainbow Alliance only asked a person’s name, address and what they needed and the response had been overwhelmingly positive.
While the group doesn’t have strict geographic boundaries, the majority of its efforts have been concentrated in Solihull communities including Kingshurst itself and neighbouring Smith’s Wood, as well as Shard End, just over the Birmingham border.
And some of the food which has found its way into the food parcels delivered is not just locally-sourced, it’s locally-grown.
Around 1.6 tonnes of produce has been cultivated on the community plot at Jubilee Gardens, which as we reported last month has been transformed into a vibrant green space.
The potatoes, squash, spinach, kale, tomatoes and other fresh fruit and veg has helped fill out the formidable number of packages prepared in the past year.
Collaboration with other community initiatives – such as the Real Junk Food Project – as well as donations from major chains like Asda and Jacks have also bolstered supplies.
Ms Cole said the way that residents and groups had rallied round was hugely positive and, as in many areas, the crisis seemed to have built a strong sense of solidarity.
The Rainbow Alliance sees the relief effort of the past year, which has helped an estimated 12,000 people, as part of a much wider project and warned some challenges were only set to grow.
“There’s going to be high rates of redundancy and further financial uncertainty,” said 43-year-old Ms Cole, who works as an advocate.
“The problem is not going to go away and neither are we.
“One of the main things for me is to make sure we are proactive and understand what’s happening.”
There is frustration however that statutory services have left so many gaps in the safety net.
A report, to be discussed by Solihull councillors later today (Monday), confirms the surge in those claiming Universal Credit.
Between January 2020 and 2021 claimants in Solihull increased by 93 per cent (8,320 individuals).
Nearly two thirds of claimants – 62 per cent – are under the age of 40, with around a third under 30 – with young people bearing the brunt of the economic crash.
Joanne Robinson, the council’s head of income and awards, said there was a particular surge in “the early months of the pandemic” – with many industries and businesses poleaxed by the lockdown.
Although UC was intended to simplify the welfare system, a report last summer accused the support package of “failing millions” and helping fuel food poverty.
The Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee said the allowance was in need of “urgent investment just to catch up and provide claimants with adequate income”.
Welfare delivery minister Will Quince had insisted the government was “committed to supporting the most vulnerable”.
Responding to criticism last summer, he said: “The system defied its critics in unprecedented and unforeseeable circumstances, processing more than 3.2m new claims at pace since mid-March .”
Despite this a range of charities, both locally and nationally, have highlighted the surge in demand for support on the back of the pandemic.
Around Again, based in Fordbridge, spoke of the significant pressures last year, while the Trussell Trust charity has said tens of thousands nationwide were seeking support for the first time.
Separately there have also been rows in the past year around provision of free school meals and what support should be available to struggling families during the holiday period.
We reported last month that Solihull Council would be ploughing almost £1 million in central government cash into a new food and holiday activity programme.
Ministers argue that long term solutions rather than crisis response were the best approach, although critics maintain the response has been sluggish and driven by a widespread public outcry.
Up to 6,500 borough households could be eligible for the new initiative, which will be available from the six-week summer break onwards. Although somewhat contentiously families will have to choose to “opt in”.
- To find out more about the Rainbow Alliance Kingshurst or if you would like to volunteer call 0121 728 3427/07579827547, email email@example.com or visit rainbowalliancekingshurst.wordpress.com. The group is also on Facebook and Instagram.
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