Opinion: People are starving across our city, says Labour Group leader Shaz Nawaz

Foodbank volunteersFoodbank volunteers
Foodbank volunteers
I intend to devote the bulk of this week’s column to an appeal for donations. The reason is simple and yet sad and alarming.

My fellow Labour and Cooperative Party councillor, Dennis Jones, has volunteered at food banks for over two years. He began working at one in Dogsthorpe at the start of the pandemic; he now volunteers at the Holy Spirit foodbank in Bretton every two weeks. The Labour group on PCC has donated over 1.5 tonnes of food and provisions in 2020-21 and has made several ad hoc donations in the past year. Thank you to those who have supported our various appeals with cash and provisions.

We are in June 2022, some two years after the start of the Covid pandemic and supposedly, we are starting to return to normal. We have been told that our prime minister has got “the big calls right”. If that were true, why is Trussell Trust foodbank here in Peterborough averaging 175 vouchers per week? This is over 2,000 kilos of food representing over 4,500 individual meals a week. How did this happen?

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Fuel poverty bears much of the blame. The foodbank is seeing an increase in older people and working people whose pensions or wages are not keeping pace with inflation. The largest increase reported is for what they call ‘kettle food’ such as a Pot Noodle or anything that can be eaten either cold or by simply boiling a kettle. Older and working people are unable, or plain frightened, to turn on their ovens because they cannot afford the costs.

We have all seen the frankly obscene spectacle of Conservative politicians eating a buffet celebrating the launch of another food bank. The Conservative Mayor of Dartford was seen to be smiling and laughing while opening a food bank. They apparently neither appreciated nor cared that their party has presided over a huge increase in their number and use. The numbers continue to rise. We should only smile, laugh and have a party when we close a food bank due to lack of use.

I am told by a fellow councillor that volunteers recently chipped in to go to the local supermarket to buy deodorant. This represents a new phase in the crisis: it isn’t just about the food on the table but about keeping yourself and your family clean. Donations are dropping because the people who do contribute are now less able to do so.

So, this week, I ask those who read this column to bear in mind that numbers using our food bank are increasing whilst donations are falling. Essentials, such as tinned tomatoes, shower gel, toilet rolls, tinned meat and fish, and instant mash, are in desperately short supply.