A Story of COVID19

Some of our service users include a man who had not eaten for 4 days and could only stare at the 4 walls of his house not knowing what to do. He had recently started a job, however his workplace had been forced to close down for 3 months during the pandemic. He was not entitled to any benefits because of his immigration status,  and it was only when another organisation contacted him to request the payment of overdue membership fees that he informed them of his plight. He was referred to us for food parcel assistance. He has since returned to work.

A client was referred to us by a family friend for assistance with food parcels. The man was recently separated from his partner and was looking after his 2 very young daughters. His ex partner was withholding child benefit, so he was struggling to clothe and feed his children, and take care of their basic needs (such as the provision of toiletries or their school uniform). We rallied together with a church in Wellingborough and were able to provide the children with school uniforms, shoes, bags, toys, books, and toiletries.

These are just 2 stories provided by United African Association (or UAA), a Charity based in Northampton which has witnessed concern and vulnerability over the past 12 months.

Some background on UAA:

In March 2020 they decided to make a grant application with the aim of providing food parcels to the African community that had been affected by the onset of COVID19.

At that time there was panic amongst the African community within Northamptonshire, as had been widely reported in the media: The  majority of victims of COVID19 were black Africans, many of whom worked in the care and NHS industries, and as retail staff and in front line security. Many had contracted the virus, some had been hospitalised, some had been in self isolation for a number of weeks and others had unfortunately died from the disease.

Additionally, many healthcare workers worked for agencies, with care and nursing homes trying to limit infections to their premises, reducing the number of agency staff to their establishments significantly. As a result, around 200 healthcare workers went from working 5 -6 days to 1-2 days a week, so needed assistance in the provision of food. This is unfortunately still the case with many of their food recipients,  and UAA continue to make applications for funds to continue with the provision of food parcels and non food essentials. The food banks did not cater for their communities dietary needs and also limited referrals to 5 times in 12 months.

Many of the carers and support workers have biometric cards which allow them to work, however they have no recourse to public funds so cannot claim benefits. This left them under significant financial strain.

In addition, UAA  have African community members who have pending immigration statuses, or are asylum seekers. Undocumented migrants and refugees. Prior to the pandemic they were being supported by friends, relatives and faith based establishments. However, with friends and relatives themselves affected, and the shutdown of faith based premises this support was no longer available.

Those employed in the security sector were badly affected with some not having worked for 7 weeks.UAA also saw single mothers who had to give up work as they were unable to afford childcare, and were therefore struggling to survive on welfare benefits.

Many individuals had come to visit their relatives, but with many African borders suddenly closing they were unable to return to their home countries for a few months and were relying on assistance from their already stretched relatives.

Here are some important facts:

UAA have delivered 2,500 Food Parcels in the last 12 months.

Requests for support have increased from 40 per month to in excess of 200 per month.

The type of request is growing and includes housing, immigration, health, disability, education and poverty.

They have made 150 referrals to other hardship schemes.

Together with other food banks UAA have formed the West Northamptonshire Food Alliance to better serve those struggling with food poverty.

Since April 2020, UAA  have ran a telephone befriending service with the aim of reducing isolation within the community.

Over the past year UAA have received referrals for the provision of African food parcels from Social Services, Red Cross, NHS staff, the Borough Council, The Citizens Advice Bureau, GPs, other Charities as well as self referrals from their community. UAA were the first African food bank in Northamptonshire and are still the largest.

A Poverty Truth Perspective:

We all know the pressure and concern that the recent pandemic has brought to bear on individuals, communities and community organisations attempting to deal with increased demand with reduced capacity and resource. What we know for sure is that COVID19 will merely exacerbate the vulnerabilities which have existed for some time, whilst bringing new vulnerabilities such as Mental Health and Well-being. The pandemic will also undoubtedly bring about more poverty than ever before, with individuals having never experienced poverty at risk as our economy tries to recover. Whilst facts and figures tell some of the story, they never tell it all. Peoples experiences are a vital part of the debate.