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FOCUS: More islanders turning to food banks as inflation bites

FOCUS: More islanders turning to food banks as inflation bites

Monday 31 January 2022

FOCUS: More islanders turning to food banks as inflation bites

Monday 31 January 2022


Amid rising prices and an apparent lack of action from the Government, increasing numbers of islanders are turning to food banks for help.

Despite “reducing income inequality" being one of the Government's "priorities" since 2018, many islanders on lower incomes - and those tasked with supporting them - are reporting that the situation has worsened in recent years.

Express took a closer look at the rising cost of living locally, and what 'inflation' really means...

Burden on 'basics'

The latest Retail Prices Index – the main figure for tracking inflation in Jersey – showed that, during 2021, prices in Jersey increased by 3.8%.

Fuel and light saw the highest increase with 9.5%, followed by motoring and fares and travel, which all went up by 5.9%. 

Overall, food prices increased by 1.9% - but some 'basics' saw much higher increases than that.

food inflation 2021

Pictured: Statistics Jersey shared a breakdown of the changes in everyday item prices between 2020 and 2021 with Express.

This includes bread (2.6%), pork (4.5%), fish (2.5%), oils and fat (4.2%), milk (4.1%), tea (11.6%) and fresh vegetables (3.4%).

The jump was yet more stark over a five-year period, with some 'basics' shooting up by as much as 20% - this included bread, tea and cooking oil.

Statistics Jersey has been tracking inflation for low income households since 2007. Over the 12 months to December 2021, it increased by 3.3%.

However, in the UK, where inflation jumped to 5.4%, Jack Monroe, a food writer who campaigns on poverty issues, has been calling for the creation of a slightly different index.

The ‘Vimes Boots Index' is based on a theory of socioeconomic unfairness laid out in a Terry Pratchett novel. It suggests that an individual on a lower income may only be able to afford low quality items - and will therefore end up spending more money over the course of their lifetime having to buy replacements, rather than being able to invest in a single, more expensive item which will last. 

What has the Government been doing about the rising cost of living?

One of the Government’s Common Strategic Policies was to “reduce income inequality and improve the standard of living” in the island, by improving the “quality and affordability of housing, improve social inclusion, and remove barriers to and at work”.

Announcing the policy in 2018, the Government acknowledged there were “large gaps” between the highest and lowest earners as well as “concern about growing levels of income inequality and the negative effect this will have on our community and economy”.

Video: Ministers said they would work to reduce income inequality and bring down rising living costs.

Ministers at the time pledged to work towards “a fair balance between wages, taxes and benefits, rents and living costs”.

However, evidence seems to suggest the Government not achieved this policy, with the Jersey House Price Index – which combines the average price of 1- and 2-bedroom flats together with 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom houses prices – having gone up from around £166,000 to £225,000 at the end of the third quarter of 2021.

Meanwhile, the number of people seeking Income Support has remained roughly the same since 2018 – although the pandemic led to a big increase in the number of claims in early 2020.  

A growing demand for food banks

The Grace de Trust, St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Salvation Army all provide a food bank.

St. Vincent de Paul is currently supporting 40 islanders per week, the majority of which are on some form of income support whilst some have had to seek help from the food bank because “prices have risen so much”, Peter Farrell, the Treasurer, explained. 

About 70% of those the society helps are also regulars aged from their mid 30’s onwards, with those of an older age having been coming for a long time.

The picture is roughly the same at the Salvation Army, with the biggest group of people benefiting from food bags receiving some income support.

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Pictured: Demand for local food banks has increased since the beginning of the pandemic.

“It’s important to remember that people can be working and have income support, for example because they are on lower incomes,” Richard Nunn, the Officer responsible for church and community work, said.

“Some may be in a particular situation that means their income has reduced or their expenses have increased, it can be because of health, redundancy or maybe through no mistakes of their own they have been overpaid by Social Security and have to repay.

“Another example is someone moving into an Andium property and there is no carpet. Because they have a child, they need carpet so then they have to take out a loan from Social Security but then they have to pay that back. In my opinion, a property from Andium Homes should be hard wearing and ready to live in but some people are moving into something that is not appropriate."

During the pandemic, people whose businesses had fallen into hard times also sought help from the charity. “If you live to your means and then suddenly a third of your income is lost, what do you do? People could not have planned for what happened,” Richard added. 

“People are complex, there are always other things going on, everyone has a back story to why they go to a food bank, it’s complicated and varied. One of the things I want to do is to drill down what are the key reasons people come to us.”

tax bill invoice prices RPI mortgage rent calculator stress money finance

Pictured: "Everyone has a back story to why they go to a food bank, it’s complicated and varied," Richard Nunn said.

The Salvation Army set up its food back in March 2020 during lockdown. While it was due to shut down around Easter last year, it is still going and Richard said it will continue to do so, “as long as we are needed”. 

Before the pandemic, the charity along gave about 10 food bags out per month. In November 2021 they distributed food parcels to 56 different households – representing a total of 123 islanders - over a course of 89 interactions, with some households receiving food more than once. On top of this, the charity gave utility top-ups for electricity, gas and oil to 27 households.

And the demand is not slowing down - Richard placed an order earlier this year which he thought would last until Easter but has had to place a new one last week. 

In recent weeks, Richard has been receiving more and more requests from schools who have identified some of their pupils as being in need. Meanwhile, the number of free soups distributed at the charity’s café has been going through the roof. 

“I can only see it as to do with the cost of living,” he said. “Some of it might be hanging over from pandemic but it is also to do with the cost of living going up with Brexit and the pandemic.” 

With so many people relying on the food bank, Richard does not want to let them down by stopping the distribution. 

“People are making difficult choices between heating their homes and feeding their family, or between feeding themselves and their kids, how can you then shut down or reduce what you do?” he said.

“I do not want to make people dependent on food bank but in reality, you can of course support people to get self-sufficient but when you start with so little money, there’s no amount of saving or scrimping that can do that.”

A symptom of inactivity?

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 Pictured: "The Government seems to have outsourced the issue to charities," Deputy Ward said.

For Deputy Rob Ward, the failure to address price increase over the last five years has been “absolutely laid bare by the pandemic”. 

“It needs to be remembered by Government that any increase in food prices disproportionately affects those on lower incomes and those who are just managing, and there’s a growing group of people who are just getting by,” he said. 

“As we get hit by increasing inflation, it’s going to be felt even more. The Government seems to have outsourced the issue to charities. An increasing use of food banks is not a good reflection on our society.”

The St. Helier representative slammed comments from Deputy Jeremy Maçon in the States Assembly in December who  suggested not managing finances properly was one of the reasons people access food banks, which the Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, as a “disgraceful statement”, explaining some people are working several different jobs and may find themselves struggling if they are struck with unexpected costs such as car repairs. 

“I genuinely do not think there’s an understanding as the Government do not have the interaction or the concern for people within these demographics, to me that’s a big worry,” he said.

“People in full time employment having to rely on income support to survive is not a good reflection on our society. It reflects the genuine effect of growing income inequality on people’s lives. That’s the key thing we are not addressing.” 

What can be done?

Robert-Ward.jpg

Pictured: Deputy Rob Ward says the Government should ditch its “cyclical approach to poverty.

Deputy Ward believes the Government should stop relying on charities and ditch its “cyclical approach to poverty” to instead introduce a “genuine Living Wage” – “we are a wealthy island we should be able to do that” – as well as tackling high rents.

“We end up with people trapped in a cycle of poverty, it’s undignified, it’s expensive and we’re not enabling people to have the life they want,” he explained. 

“Some of our people are left to charity to survive, how are we including those people in our society? We tell them they have not value and it’s wrong, and if we are going to genuinely put children first, we cannot have them rely on food banks.”

He says that the “reality of poverty” can be seen in his district, St. Helier No. 2, and that people who are struggling shouldn’t be “demonised”. He believes the impact of inflation should be better calculated to address the impact it has on lower income families and that the number of people who are “just managing” should also be looked at. “I suspect it’s growing and that it’s also moving into other socio-economic areas and not just those on lower incomes. 

“The inflation figure we are using determines what minimum wage is but that section on minimum wage are the most affected,” he added.

“If there’s a 3% increase on a new car, that’s just 3% and you can probably afford it but if it’s 17% on bread that makes a huge difference. 

“We need to think about how we are going to protect people from the damage that would do and not demonise people, that’s the most disgraceful thing we can do.

“Life circumstances can put us there. We need to decide what standard we want everyone to be able to live in or you end up in a massively divided society which does nothing for cohesion and for the development of skills.”

Inna-Gardiner.jpg

Pictured: Deputy Inna Gardiner would like to see more targeted action to support the most vulnerable.

For Deputy Inna Gardiner, targeted action is required to address inflation as a whole. “We are not able to stop the inflation so we need to target the most vulnerable,” she said.

One such example of targeted action she would like to see is free meals. While she believes all schools should provide free meals, Deputy Gardiner said she was surprised to see the school meal programme extended St. Martin’s and St. Peter’s primary schools when Rouge Bouillon and First Tower schools have a higher level of Jersey Premium. 

“Families are facing inflation on all costs, food, heating, gas,” she said. “We need to make sure the most vulnerable get support.

“I think we really need to look at targeting for the most vulnerable through various options but it should be with very little redirection.

“We know inflation is hitting on all of us. We need to look at where the families are suffering the most so that we can really understand how they are managing and how to help them.” 

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Posted by Scott Mills on
When Jersey local produce grown/havested is more expensive than anywhere where it is shipped, we'lll have cheap food. Get rid of GST on food, and for crying out loud break up the Cartel between just 2 companies running the show. LIDL ALDI but not a franchise version (like M&S, Morrisons etc...) thank you, the real company!!!!!
Posted by Sarah Simon on
Greed!! Greed and more Greed!! How come it is cheaper for me to shop for items on Amazon and have them delivered to my front door than to shop local?. Greed. Everyone knows that food shopping in England and Europe is substantially cheaper than Jersey. Where is, Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority (JCRA), in all this?
Perhaps wealthy local supermarket owners and shareholders would like to cough up food for the less fortunate among the real people of Jersey.
For example.....
Annual accounts for Waitrose Ltd at Companies House show pre-exceptional operating profits surged by 71% to £277.5m in the year ending 30 January 2021.
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