A 94-year-old woman living alone, who did not eat for five days because she was “too scared” to leave her house under lockdown and had no one to shop for her, has been rescued from acute hunger by charity volunteers.
The woman (not named) from Govan, Glasgow, came to the attention of Salvation Army volunteers and housing officers who were knocking on doors to check up on people as a part of a local Covid-19 food support scheme.
The case has highlighted soaring levels of food insecurity in the UK as low-income households, many already living close to the breadline, struggle with reduced income because of furloughs, job losses and and extra living costs associated with the pandemic.
The Salvation Army said that across the UK it saw a 63% average increase in households receiving food parcels from its 665 UK centres between February and April. It warned that the coronavirus pandemic had pushed the UK to a “poverty tipping point”.
The woman, who lived on the top floor of a tenement block, was given hot soup and a food parcel after being discovered on 23 March by a mobile food support project of the Salvation Army, which is a Christian church and charity, and by Govan housing association.
Tracy Bearcroft, a major in the Govan Salvation Army, told the Guardian: “She had no one to get anything for her and she was too frightened to go out. At first it was very scary for a lot of old folk, who didn’t want to go out because they thought they would catch [Covid-19] immediately and have to go to hospital.”
Bearcroft, who runs the army’s Govan mobile food project with her husband Mark, said demand had risen 10-fold in recent weeks. Her project was providing 100 hot meals a day and 140 food parcels a week – a potentially unsustainable level of provisions.
The area, where many people were on low-paid, zero hours contracts, had been badly affected economically by Covid-19, the couple said. “People don’t really want to come [for charity food] but they don’t really have an option because they have got kids and they don’t have enough food to see them out for the week,” said Bearcroft.
Anthony Cotterill, a commissioner in the Salvation Army, said of the UK-wide increase in charity food support: “It’s years since we have seen poverty to be such a real and present danger for so many people. We really welcome the initial action the government has taken to support income through the furlough scheme, but we are worried that the communities we work in will be reeling from the economic fallout for many years.
“We are approaching a poverty tipping point. Our immediate focus is scaling up our provision to get food and support to people who need it now – from families unable to pay utility bills to rough sleepers struggling to feed themselves.”
The Salvation Army said its Leicester centre, which would typically have up to five families each week arriving for food parcels prior to lockdown, was at present supporting as many as 100 families a day.
The charity’s centre in Chatham, Kent, reported that its food bank was now open five days a week, compared to two days a week before the pandemic. More than 100 families a week were relying on it now for charity food, a four-fold increase since February.
The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network, earlier this month reported an unprecedented 81% increase in food bank use due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Food Foundation thinktank last week estimated that five million people in the UK were experiencing food insecurity.