Food insecurity is a travesty, and even more so in a crisis, but whilst we campaign at a national level to unlock systems such as fair pay and benefits, we can celebrate what has been happening locally to respond to the coronavirus crisis.
In a previous blog post in May we celebrated some of the amazing work of our foodbanks, community larders, community fridges/ cupboards and meal delivery services.
If ever there was a best practice example of how to respond to a crisis with resilience, adaptability and a ‘can do’ attitude, these services have demonstrated this with gusto since the start of lockdown on 23rd March.
Whilst we had seen the national figures* and heard the experiences of our network organisations on the frontline of food provision, the full scale of the challenge of providing food access in local communities was only revealed through our survey of Community Food Services across the county which we carried out during May 2020.
*2.6 million households are struggling to cover expenses such as energy and food (Office for National Statistics); 89% rise in provision of food parcels via the Trussell Trust
The use of community food services has increased 3-fold since the start of COVID-19 with over 5,000 people now accessing services across Oxfordshire.
The number of food parcels distributed has increased 6-fold with nearly 4,000 parcels being distributed weekly.
58% of services reported a significant increase in demand from families with children, with other significant increases among single parents and working-age individuals. It is these groups who are hardest hit by the financial implications of COVID-19 tipping them from just about managing into crisis.
Indeed, 89% of services reported that the most common reason for accessing services is financial. As furloughing schemes end, unemployment rises and payment holidays wind up, services do not foresee any reduction in the need for community food support.
During the current crises, our County, City and District Councils have worked together to take on new roles of coordinating support for those sheltering at home and otherwise made vulnerable through the wider impact of COVID-19, including those struggling with access to food. New partnership approaches have been developed and new financial and logistical support from Councils has been made available where needed. At Good Food Oxford we have been working closely with colleagues in our local Councils, including with partners in County Public Health and City and District Community and Environmental Health teams, to understand and address the crisis and the significant impact that community organisations have had in meeting need. The phenomenal response of our community food services to meet this need has not gone unnoticed by elected representatives:
“Community Food Services have made an amazing contribution to keeping people safe and well across Oxfordshire in this incredibly difficult time. We have worked hard to develop an integrated approach across local councils and local community services have stood alongside us, with responsiveness and flexibility to open up their offer to support more people than ever with their most basic needs.”(Mark Gray, Cabinet Member for Local Communities, Oxfordshire County Council)
What’s more, these services have been supplying food that would otherwise have gone to waste – saving a whopping 300 tonnes of waste food since the start of the crisis.
As services start to plan for what the future looks like GFO is committed to facilitating collaboration; to share best practice and resources; and to advocate for the support that services need, so that collectively we can ensure that everyone in Oxfordshire can eat affordable and sustainable food 365 days a year.
Photo credit: Oxford Mail
Food services across the board see an increase in demand during school holidays and thankfully the government’s announcement last week of the continuation of free school meal vouchers over the summer will help to alleviate this. The campaign was hard fought by many of our partner organisations including Sustain and the Good Law Project who threatened legal action against the government, and obviously the heart-felt intervention of Marcus Rashford in sharing his own experiences of the significance of free school meals for so many families. Let’s take this moment to reflect on the value of collective impact and what we can achieve if we work together and keep campaigning.