'We want to let them know there's no shame': Why this couple volunteer in a foodbank at Christmas

·Political Correspondent - Yahoo News UK
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Matthew and Sophie now work at the foodbank they used to rely on. (Nadine Batchelor-Hunt/Yahoo News UK)

"We've used foodbanks ourselves, so we understand the pressures in going there, the reluctance, all the stresses."

For Matthew and his partner Sophie, a crucial element of their role as volunteers at a Birmingham foodbank is making sure people don't feel ashamed about asking for help.

"We just tried to relax people as much as possible [when they first come in]," said Matthew.

"Many people are very anxious the first time and you can really sense that. And you just want to immediately tell them, 'we're here to help, you don't need to worry'."

"We've been on the other side, as well," said Sophie.

"So we can certainly relate, you know, relate to how they're feeling. We just want to let them know there's no shame."

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Sophie expressed concern of the mental health impacts being in poverty can have. (Nadine Batchelor-Hunt/Yahoo News UK)

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The Trussell Trust foodbank where the couple volunteer in Sparkhill, Birmingham, say they have seen a huge surge in demand in recent months, reporting a 47% increase in December this year compared to December 2020.  

In the year before the pandemic began, the foodbank distributed 9,000 parcels. In 2021, the figures so far have reached 14,500.

Foodbank usage across the UK has soared over the last 11 years, with data from the Trussell Trust showing that 2.5 million emergency parcels were distributed in 2020/21. In 2008/09, the figure was less than 26,000. 

When it comes to the impact of government policies, the couple say they have seen an increase in the number of clients at the foodbank following cuts in government support. 

"I think the numbers of people coming in has doubled, if not even more, especially since the Universal Credit uplift ended," Sophie said. 

"We've seen many more people since then in need of the help."

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Matthew said the government needs to do more to support those in poverty. (Nadine Batchelor-Hunt/Yahoo News UK)

The managers of the foodbank say, from their experience, some of the main driving factors behind the surge in clients are the removal of the £20 per week uplift, soaring energy prices, and the 'mock lockdown' caused by the surge in Omicron - for which the furlough scheme has not returned.

Both Matthew and Sophie raised concerns that those in government have little understanding of what it is like to rely on a food bank.

"The divide I think is massive," said Sophie. 

"Those suffering are very far from those who are [in government]."

Matthew agreed. 

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The foodbank say they have seen a 47% increase in demand in December 2021 compared to December 2020. (Nadine Batchelor-Hunt/Yahoo News UK).

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"The government need to do a lot more, don't they?" he said. 

"There's no understanding... of what people go through from the top, that's my opinion".

The Sparkhill foodbank is located on the edge of the consistency of Yardley, which has the fourth highest levels of child poverty in Birmingham.

Constituency MP for Yardley, Jess Phillips, told Yahoo News UK the situation is a "tragedy". 

"We have seen more and more people using the service - people who have never used such services before," she said. 

"It is a tragedy that, in the second biggest city in such a rich country, so many cannot afford to eat." 

According to data from the department for work and pensions for 2019/2020, nearly 20% of Brits live in absolute poverty - around 11.7m. 

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