31st Jan 2020

Why are people going hungry in North East England?

Peter MacLellan, Chief Executive of the Durham Christian Partnership, discusses food poverty in Sunderland a part of our Vital Signs Food Poverty work in 2019
Sunderland Foodbank Network

This year, the Community Foundation released a report on food poverty in North East England. With the cost of household essentials like food and fuel rising, and low incomes from benefits or poor-quality employment prevalent, this has become a growing problem.

Mark Pierce, Director of Community knowledge and Funding at the Community Foundation, co-authored the report. ‘The stark truth is that many individuals and families can no longer afford to eat properly,’ he explains. ‘But of course, they develop ways to cope. We found evidence, for example, of parents regularly skipping meals so their children get enough. But with household budgets stretched to the limit, even a minor event like a washing machine breaking down can throw families into crisis. Philanthropy can help those at most risk of going hungry by supporting a range of local initiatives like foodbanks, breakfast clubs and schemes that redistribute unsold food.

‘Sadly, the scale of the problem means philanthropy alone cannot end food poverty.’ Mark adds. ‘However, our report shows that it can help great local projects make all the difference in the world to people in their time of greatest need.’

On the back of the report, the Community Foundation has made a series of grants to charities working on food poverty. These include awards to foodbanks and other services providing food to those who cannot afford it, but also grants to help people avoid getting into difficulties and for projects that raise public awareness of the issue.  

Pennywell Youth Project

One of the most pressing problems raised in the report is holiday hunger. The loss of free school meals during the holidays results in hardship for tens of thousands of the poorest local children. Playschemes that feed them once per day, whilst providing enjoyable learning and physical activities, can make a huge difference. The Guy Readman Endowment Fund at the Community Foundation is investing £24,000 in six such schemes across Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, whilst a separate grant of £10,000 to Children North East will help ensure children have a say in the future development of such provision.

Cassandra O’Neil, Project Coordinator at Pennywell Youth Project, says funding from the Community Foundation will help her organisation achieve more for young people in one disadvantaged neighbourhood in Sunderland. ‘We exist in the heart of the community and seek to make a difference by providing good quality provision for children and young people to have fun, make lasting memories and eat well, whilst providing good respite for parents too,’ she explains. ‘When children return to school in September, they can be proud of their achievements with many stories to share with their peers.”

Vital Signs – Food poverty: how philanthropy can make a difference is available to download from the Community Foundation’s website at www.communityfoundation.org.uk/vitalsigns.

The Foundation plans to publish its next Vital Signs report early in 2020 which will look at the increased diversity of local communities in the North East and how philanthropy is addressing the challenge of achieving greater equality.

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