Food & Wellbeing

The National Food Strategy

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The National Food Strategy: What does it do for food poverty?
By Sian Mullen

Part one of the National Food Strategy, an independent review supported by a team of experts across the food system, was published last month. It aims to make, “urgent recommendations to support the country through the turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to prepare for the end of the EU exit transition period”.

Initially, the strategy does a good job of steering the conversation towards the relationship between food and economics. It highlights some of the factors that cause food poverty: sudden unemployment, the housing benefit cap, and delay in receiving universal credit. Equally, it recognises that the lack of a “financial buffer”, experienced by those in low paid jobs, means they are less likely to be able to cope with the shock of a loss of income. Thus, it correctly determines that food poverty is not caused by a lack of food, it is caused by a lack of funds to buy it.

However, the strategy recommendations do not focus on fixing these underlying causes of poverty. Aside from a brief note to continue to measure food poverty (an important factor in ensuring the right work is done in the right place), the focus is directed towards free meals and voucher support. It predominantly focuses on children, presumably based on the slightly misleading assertion that, “new food bank users are overwhelmingly children and young people”. A closer look at the statistics relating to this claim reveal that while 21% of users during COVID-19 were families with dependent children and 5% did not have dependent children, the other 74% of respondents ‘preferred not to answer’. It is questionable to draw any conclusions around the age of users from such statistics. Equally, 22% of new food bank users (over the age of 16), were aged between 16-24; a significant, but not overwhelming proportion of the population.

This is not to detract from the importance of ensuring that children have access to nutritious food. However, this singular emphasis on children runs the risk of a strategic focus that concentrates on food handouts and vouchers as opposed to changes in welfare and employment policies to ensure adults have access to a decent and reliable income in order to feed themselves and their children.

One of the key recommendations is an increase in the value of Healthy Start vouchers. Whilst valuing initiatives aimed at ensuring children are nutritionally healthy, there are flaws to this approach. Firstly, if people do not have enough money to provide for their children, then they should receive more money. Cash assistance avoids issues surrounding accessing vouchers, issues around accessing shops where you can spend vouchers, and provides the recipient with dignity and equality when buying products (for an interesting perspective on the relegation of those on benefits to a world outside of money see: Williams (2013)). Critics argue that vouchers are necessary to ensure funds are spent as intended, however evidence suggests that cash schemes are successful in meeting project aims (Bailey (2013); DFID (2017)) and the level of control provided by vouchers is unreasonable and promotes
dependence on handouts,

“One of the principles of universal credit is to encourage personal responsibility.
It’s inconsistent … to say a benefit claimant should be trusted to pay their rent,
but we shouldn’t trust them to buy food…”
(CPAG)

Secondly, the uptake of Healthy Start vouchers is low with the current rate at only 48%. If vouchers are going to be the temporary answer, then there needs to be a focus on maximising take-up through proper promotion of the support that’s available, reducing complexity and stigma and measures to ensure vouchers can be accessed easily.’

Sian Mullen Food Poverty Programme Coordinator for GM Poverty ActionUltimately, if we are going to end food poverty then we need to address the problems that lead to food poverty. What we really need in Greater Manchester is a strategy that focuses on ensuring everyone has access to a decent and reliable income (Caraher & Furey (2017); Garnham (2020); Macleod (2019); Tait (2015)). Yes, we need some short-term fixes to the symptoms, but without a strategy that has a clear long-term goal of a decent and reliable income for all, the problem of food poverty will remain.

Sian Mullen
GMPA Food Poverty Programme Coordinator

 

 

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Food poverty programme

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GMPA’s Food Poverty Programme Update, and Introducing Sian Mullen
By Tom Skinner

Addressing the underlying causes of food poverty has been a major focus of GMPA’s work over the last three years. Many of you have contributed to it, including through the Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance project which co-produced the GM Food Poverty Action Plan, published last year.

Since then, we have pushed for many of the actions in the plan to happen. This includes:

  • The GM Combined Authority collating information about poverty levels, access to food, Healthy Start voucher uptake and more, and sharing this with Local Authorities.
  • A greater recognition of the Combined and Local Authorities’ roles in reducing poverty as a means of tackling food poverty, and elected members and officers being tasked with this.
  • Increasingly joined up thinking about food provision during the school holidays. (Although we eventually want to reach a state where the need for charitable food aid is significantly reduced.)
  • More recently we have been very involved in helping to support and shape GM’s response to Covid-19, particularly addressing the extra impact that the pandemic has had on people in poverty.

To build on this work we recently recruited to a new post – Food Poverty Programme Coordinator – that will focus on implementing the action plan and support measures that address the underlying causes of food poverty.  This work will include piloting place-based partnership approaches to reducing food poverty in different localities across Greater Manchester. We were delighted to have appointed Sian Mullen to the role.


Sian Mullen

Sian Mullen Food Poverty Programme Coordinator for GM Poverty ActionSian has worked in the development and humanitarian sectors both in the UK and abroad for many years. She is passionate about working to alleviate poverty to create a more equal society, and is excited to be focusing on reducing food poverty in Greater Manchester.

Sian has lived in Manchester since 2012 when she came to complete her PhD in Humanitarianism.

Prior to joining GMPA she worked as a programme manager with Oxfam, coordinating their poverty alleviation programme across Greater Manchester. She has also been an active volunteer with several charities involved in food provision including during the Covid-19 response.


Tom for GMFPA article for GM Poverty Action

Tom Skinner, GMPA Co-Director

At GMPA we are excited about working with Sian and many of our partners over the coming years as we work towards our vision of a Greater Manchester free from poverty. Linked to this is the need for national action on food poverty. Part one of the National Food Strategy, an independent  review supported by a team of experts across the food  system, was published last month. You can read GMPA’s comments in response to the strategy in a separate article on the news page.

 

 

 

Tom Skinner
Director, GMPA

 

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Local Welfare Assistance

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Ensure Local Welfare Assistance is the lifeline it needs to be, during this crisis and in the future
By Gareth Duffield, Area Manager – Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire, Trussell Trust

During the pandemic we have seen a soaring rise in need. The number of food parcels provided by food banks in the Trussell Trust food network increased by 89% in April compared to last year, with a staggering 107% rise in parcels for families with dependent children.

Over the past few months, we’ve heard lots of suggestions that focus on getting food to people who can’t afford it. But food isn’t the answer to people needing food banks.  We are working towards a society where everyone has enough to buy food for their family, cover their housing costs, heat and light their homes, and to be able to buy all the other essentials we all need to get by.

During this crisis, we have been working in coalition with other anti-poverty charities to call for lifelines to help us all weather this storm, such as through suspending the repayment of Universal Credit advance payments, and increasing benefits that go towards the cost of raising children.

One important safety net is local welfare assistance schemes (LWA) which can provide cash grants to keep households afloat in times of financial crisis. When properly run, they get money to people quickly and can reduce the likelihood that people will become homeless or need to turn to a food bank.

It was heartening that the Prime Minister has announced a £63 million fund for these schemes; and of this, councils in Greater Manchester have received an allocation of £3.9m. Now this money has been allocated, it is absolutely crucial that these funds are administered properly if these schemes are to be the lifeline we so desperately need at this time. We are asking local authorities to:

•  Spend the money as intended: We recognise that local authorities are under huge amounts of pressure in many areas of their budgets, but we must ensure this money is not swallowed up by the growing holes in local authority budgets.

•  Build awareness of Local Welfare Assistance and the new funding: We know awareness of LWA can be extremely low. Poor publicity, unclear application processes and onerous application forms can limit uptake and leave people turning to food banks instead. Local authorities should promote and publicise the existence and purpose of schemes and agree an approach to signposting and support pathways with food banks.

•  Ensure people in need can access Local Welfare Assistance: Given the scale of present hardship, local schemes should consider relaxing their qualifying criteria to ensure those most in need get support. For example, considering applications from low income working families or those with no recourse to public funds.

•  Ensure people get the right kind of support: There must be a flexible, tailored approach to the kinds of support people receive, including the option for cash payments, rather than just food vouchers or other in-kind benefits, so people can buy food and other essentials like gas and electricity like anyone else. We know that GMPA have also been advising councils to adopt this approach.

It will also be important for local authorities to monitor the impact of this new funding, so that we can build the case for long-term investment in local welfare assistance.

We are calling on the UK Government to allocate £250m a year in funding for local welfare assistance, which would bring spending in England in line with equivalent schemes in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. We need to ensure that the £63m fund is not a one-off, but instead local authorities can continue to provide this vital funding during the challenging times ahead.

Gareth Duffield TT article for GM Poverty ActionThank you to all our campaigners, food banks, and partners such as The Children’s Society, who helped make the changes we’ve seen so far happen. Please continue to join our calls for long-term investment into this crucial local lifeline.

No one should be forced to use a food bank. When we stand together, we can make a real impact – we hope this new money is an important first step in doing just that.

 

Gareth Duffield

 

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Food support provision through Covid-19

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Food support provision through Covid-19
by Filippo Oncini, University of Manchester

In June, a mixed method study was launched to understand the obstacles, needs, and prospects of the food support providers active in Greater Manchester immediately after the Covid-19 peak. Food support providers were invited to fill out a questionnaire and to participate in a longer interview online. Of the organisations that responded, 55 completed the questionnaire and 33 agreed to a follow up conversation. Five additional interviews were conducted with sector experts not primarily involved in frontline support, to gain additional insight into some of the findings. Although the sample is mostly composed of food banks, it also includes several responses from food pantries, food clubs and meal providers. Preliminary analyses of the data should be taken with a pinch of salt, as respondents are likely to be self-selecting on certain characteristics of the organisations, which may produce biased responses. Nonetheless the data is useful as a starting point to reflect on the emergency responses put in place, the most common difficulties and the expectations food providers have for the near future.

Let us start with some good news: respondents have not been turning eligible people away due to lack of volunteer and staff capacity, or because of a shortage of food in stock. Despite most organisations declaring that the number of volunteers has decreased during the crisis, the capacity to improvise and quickly adapt to the new circumstances, coupled with the great generosity shown by individuals and companies, has allowed them to respond promptly to the increasing requests of people in need. For instance, many of them shifted logistics operations from food pick up to food delivery to help people that were shielding. It is not by chance that a striking majority claimed to be resilient against the challenges posed by the crisis, talking about a rise in monetary and food donations (Figures 1 and 2). Interestingly, despite many food support providers being forced to shut down after the lockdown due to a lack of volunteers and/or funds, the ‘parallel welfare’ provided by the charities and by mutual aid groups (MAGs) apparently absorbed many needs that emerged after the lockdown.

Figures 1 and 2. “Thinking about the following aspects of your organisation, how have each of them changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak?”

Figs 1 and 2 for Oncini artcle for GM Poverty Action

Yet the necessity to maintain the supply of food at all costs came with some drawbacks. The lockdown measures that followed Covid-19 not only affected the financial stability (Figure 3) and the management of the organisations, but actually undermined the influential ways in which food support providers used to operate – i.e. the “social atmosphere” (see Figure 4). Before the lockdown, a whole series of services were offered in addition to food support that were as important as the food parcels themselves. With 40 of the respondents reporting an increase in the number of clients (Figure 5), due to physical distancing measures in place, other forms of support such as financial advice, empathic listening and human connection were partially or totally lost, just when they were likely to be needed the most.

Figures 3 and 4. “On a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is “Not at all” and 5 is “Very much so”, to what extent would you say COVID-19 has affected the following?”

Figs 3 and 4 for Oncini article for GM Poverty Action

Figure 5. “Thinking about the following aspects of your organisation, how have each of them changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak?”  

Fig 5 for Oncini article for GM Poverty Action

This leads us to another consideration. The exceptional nature of the first Covid-19 wave provoked the exceptional response of charities and public services alike. The sudden growth of MAGs all over the country is probably the most evident sign of this collective effort. Yet many food providers do not know how to project food poverty relief in the future. Especially during the interviews, respondents wondered whether food and monetary donations would increase again should a second lockdown occur, and stressed that the end of the furlough scheme, winter hardships, and the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, will exacerbate the situation for many people that already struggle to make ends meet and increase the number of people in need of food aid. This, in turn, could affect the response capacity of many organisations, some of which have less than two months’ worth of food or cash reserves at current levels of demands (Figures 6 and 7). Hence request of food support providers is the conception of a strategy at both the national and the local level that considers the potential scenarios and responses to a second crisis, to keep the sector afloat regardless of the severity of the upcoming crisis.

Figures 6 and 7. “Roughly, how many weeks will your existing food stocks/cash reserves last at current levels of demand?” 

Figs 6 and 7 for Oncini article for GM Poverty Action

Filippo Oncini research - Covid-19 article for GM Poverty Action

Filippo Oncini

While highlighting the fragility of the UK welfare system, the Covid-19 crisis has also shed light on the resilience of many food support providers, as well as on their complementarity. From more formal organisations, to less structured and extremely agile ones, food support providers have played a central role in the first phase of this major crisis. Yet the solidity of a social contract between the state, businesses and social groups cannot rely on a sector of the economy, no matter how well organised, intentioned and funded, for shielding the most vulnerable from poverty, precisely because food aid should be a very last resort, and not the central backbone of the social welfare.

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Covid-19: The impact on food support providers in GM

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Update July 1st 2020:

Your participation is very important, and to thank you for taking part, a donation to a charity of your choice will be made.

If you would like to participate please either:

  • Click here and fill in a 20 minute survey (£10 donation)
  • or get in touch with Filippo Oncini by email or via whatsapp on 07340 483318 and schedule a longer interview via Zoom or Skype (£30 donation)

A new study on the impact of Covid-19 on food support providers in Greater Manchester is being conducted by Filippo Oncini, a researcher based at the University of Manchester.

Filippo Oncini research - Covid-19 article for GM Poverty Action

Filippo Oncini

The research aims to explore in depth the obstacles, the needs and the prospects of the food providers active in Greater Manchester. The findings will be used to increase awareness of the many challenges met by these organisations, to shed light on their needs and to gather a picture on the general situation. Teamsearch, a research agency hired to collect the data, will call each food provider based in Greater Manchester starting from next week to ask permission to conduct an anonymous phone survey. If they agree, the director or a spokesperson of the organisation will respond to a questionnaire on the characteristics of the organisation and on the impact of Covid-19. In addition, the interviewer will also ask if the respondent would like to participate in an hour-long digital interview with Filippo to better explore some aspects of this crisis.

You can find the participant information sheet with detailed information regarding the survey here. If you have any questions or comments, do not hesitate to contact Filippo by email.

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Children’s Food Campaign

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Government urged to keep feeding children during school holidays

By Barbara Crowther, Co-ordinator for the Children’s Food Campaign

Charities, organisations and education unions have called on Education Secretary to announce additional funding for continued food provision during the forthcoming school half-term and summer holidays.

In a joint letter to the Secretary of State Gavin Williamson MP and Schools Minister Vicky Ford MP, the  organisations point to recent figures from the Food Foundation that show around 2 million children across the UK are directly experiencing some level of food insecurity or hunger. Before the crisis, 1.3 million children in England were eligible for benefit-related free school meals, however a further 1.4 million families have applied for Universal Credit since the start of the outbreak.

Campaign Co-ordinator for the Children’s Food Campaign Barbara Crowther says, “Hunger does not know the difference between term time and school holidays, and the Government’s support for families should be continuous through this crisis. Given the scale of food and income insecurity being experienced by so many families, it is critical that the Government makes national level funding available to cover all the school holidays until the start of the new academic year.”

The Welsh Government has already committed £33m additional funding to cover all holidays until the end of August, which is equivalent to holiday provision of £19.50 per week per child eligible for support. However, in England, the Department for Education has so far only committed to £9m funding for pilot holiday food projects in a few selected areas, with successful funding bidders still to be announced. In the letter, the organisations say this is not enough and a national level holiday provision funding formula is now needed “at a level sufficient to expand provision of free school meals substitutes, and to the National School Breakfast Programme, to cover all holiday periods across the whole of England until end of August.”

The Government did extend funding to allow the national school voucher programme for England to cover Easter holidays. The organisations are arguing that giving more advance notice for forthcoming holiday periods would allow schools, academy trusts and local authorities to make better plans with their relevant food and catering suppliers, or alternative voucher/cash support provision, with confidence that they will have the funds to deliver.

More information about Sustain’s Children’s Food Campaign and a list of the organisations who have signed up is available here

More information about the GM Food Poverty Action Plan is available here

 

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Assessing the Government’s Food Measures During COVID-19

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By Tom Skinner

A Parliament inquiry last week called for evidence on COVID-19 and food supply. I was asked to help Greater Manchester’s response to this call, answering the question, “Are the Government and food industry doing enough to support people to access sufficient healthy food; and are any groups not having their needs met? If not, what further steps should the Government and food industry take?” Here is what I wrote:

Central Government efforts to provide food for up to 1.5m extremely vulnerable people shielding from COVID 19 is welcome, although there have been challenges around ensuring local authorities are fully aware of who is  in receipt of support from the government’s scheme. This has made it difficult to ensure local responses are coordinated and complementary to the national scheme.

The biggest concern however is that the number of people in need far exceeds that list, both because the criteria exclude some people who have serious health conditions (there should be a larger semi-shielded list of people who, even if they turn down or are ineligible for food packages from the Government, are still prioritised for other services and access to supermarkets), and because they don’t consider low income or other related socioeconomic factors. More than three million people reported going hungry in the first three weeks of the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown alone. Greater Manchester Poverty Action’s own survey of food support providers early in the COVID-19 crisis showed increased demand for their services, but concerns about the food supply and a major decrease in volunteer capacity that will have worsened further since the lockdown started.

The £3.25m grant for redistributing surplus food has helped to allay some of the worst fears about food supply to public sector and VCSE food providers, but food banks in several areas of Greater Manchester have still been running dangerously low on supplies and have had to buy food in, either depleting their own cash reserves or relying on bailouts from their local authorities. This financial hit compounds the impact of austerity in which those councils with the most financially vulnerable populations also experienced the harshest cuts, and there is significant concern that the “Fair Funding Review” could continue or even accelerate that trend. These concerns about local authority and voluntary and community and social enterprise (VCSE) finances in Greater Manchester risk undermining the city region’s determination to provide for all of its citizens and to transition out of this crisis with a shared approach to reducing food poverty. A commitment to bolster funding for councils in the future, to meet the needs of their low-income and other vulnerable households (including but not limited to ring-fenced and better funded Local Welfare Assistance Schemes) is a missing pillar of the Government’s COVID-19 response.

Household income itself remains a barrier to accessing food, despite many welcome moves from the Government – the furlough scheme, the end of the benefits freeze, the increase in support through Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit and the extra funding to councils to meet increased demand for support with paying council tax. The removal of the requirement for Healthy Start applications to have a signature from a health worker is welcome, and we encourage the Government to move as quickly as possible to launching the system for online applications, as well as setting targets to increase uptake.

Tom Skinner, GMPA Director writes editorial for GM Poverty Action

However the 5 week wait for Universal Credit continues to increase household food insecurity, as does the 2-child limit. We also advocate substantially increasing Child Benefit and scrapping the benefit cap that limits the total amount of support a household can receive through the benefit system.

Tom Skinner
Director, GM Poverty Action

 

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Healthy Start vouchers

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Healthy Start Vouchers – Applications Made Simpler

Families can now apply for Healthy Start food vouchers without a health professional’s signature on the form, as was previously required.

Healthy Start is the UK’s food welfare scheme for pregnant women and young children in low-income families. The vouchers, worth £3.10 per week, can be used to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables, milk or infant formula, and vitamin coupons are issued in addition. The application process and other issues have limited their reach, with uptake between 51% and 62% in Greater Manchester’s boroughs, charted by GM Combine Authority. This means many families are currently missing out, costing close to an estimated £4m per year across GM.

However, the regulations around the application process have now been changed, so Healthy Start application forms (which can be found here) no longer require a health professional to complete and sign Part B. These new regulations are welcome during the Covid-19 pandemic, as families at risk of food poverty desperately need support to buy healthy food, and health professionals are already at capacity.

“Low-income families need to be able to access all available support during this time of economic and social upheaval, so the timing of the new regulation is very welcomed as they will enable pregnant women, parents and carers to apply without having to seek out a health professional. Simplifying the application process is something that’s been needed for years and we are so glad to see it happening now, when it is vital to improve food access for our most vulnerable families,” says Maddie Guerlain of Sustain.

We are calling on relevant agencies across Greater Manchester to do all they can to make more residents aware of the scheme, and help eligible residents to apply. There will be a Food Power webinar at 11am on Tuesday 28th April for those wanting to find out more, including an update on upcoming digitisation plans and case studies from two food partnerships on how they’ve been working to increase take up locally. The webinar will be recorded so if you cannot attend the live session, you can register anyway to receive a link to the recording later in the week.

Find out more about Healthy Start vouchers and how to apply here.

 

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Supporting food provision

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Supporting coordination of food provision during COVID-19
By Tom Skinner

I represent GMPA on the GM Food Response Core Team*, taking the lead (with 10GM) on understanding VCSE sector food providers’ response to COVID-19, and helping them and local authorities to work together more closely and effectively. GMPA ran a survey of VCSE food providers at the start of the lockdown, providing valuable intelligence to shape each borough’s response systems.

*The Core Team, established last month, includes representatives from the NHS, GM Combined Authority, 10GM, Food Sync, One Manchester and others. Its role is to support the boroughs’ food provision activities, providing intelligence and helping them to learn from each other (and the VCSE sector), and to join up and share resources. It brings Local Authority Food Leads and VCSE infrastructure organisations together in a weekly Food Leads meeting, which feeds into Greater Manchester’s Humanitarian Assistance Group.

At the start of this month I wrote a paper for the Humanitarian Assistance Group recommending actions to support VCSE food providers during the COVID-19 crisis, including:

  1. Assuring a robust supply of food;
  2. Helping to provide access to facilities for storing and distributing chilled and frozen food;
  3. Funding and in-kind resource to maintain and expand activities;
  4. Additional volunteer capacity;
  5. Reliable health and safety guidelines and measures;
  6. Coordination between public services and VCSE food providers.

Half of these recommendations have already been agreed for action, and the others set aside for more detailed discussions in the Food Leads meetings.

I have also been connecting VCSE food providers with local authorities and offers of support such as food, volunteering and equipment.

This role is essential in helping Greater Manchester to make use of the food that is on offer to people in need of support, and I am pleased that our work coordinating the GM Food Poverty Alliance has put us in a position to do this.

However there is much more to be done here, including facilitating meaningful open conversations about the desired long-term set-up, how to tackle the underlying causes of food poverty, and the sustainable roles of local government, VCSE sector food providers, and other stakeholders including people who have experience of food poverty (the 7th recommendation in my paper). I am therefore delighted to be able to share a job opportunity for a Food Poverty Coordinator who will join GMPA’s team and work with me to help Greater Manchester develop an effective response to food poverty, now and in the long-term.

Tom Skinner, GMPA Director writes editorial for GM Poverty Action

Tom Skinner

Tom Skinner
Director, Greater Manchester Poverty Action

 

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Mustard Tree is open

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By Jack Barton

Mustard Tree is currently still open! We’re operating as key workers under the categories of food distribution and front-line services. We’re now providing an emergency food offer, supported by our volunteers – here’s George out on one of our very first deliveries.

We want to take the opportunity to say a huge THANK YOU to our partners for all your positivity and encouragement. We’ve been around for the last 25 years – combating poverty and preventing homelessness – and working to our values of Belief, Dignity, Opportunity, Diversity and Partnership. We think these values are more relevant than ever and we are committed to continuing to support people across Greater Manchester at this time.

COVID-19 response

  • We are delivering 100 emergency food parcels and Food Club items a day to vulnerable people across
    Manchester and Salford;
  • We are providing 30 essential toiletries packs a day to rough sleepers visiting our hubs in Ancoats,
    Little Hulton and Eccles;
  • We are serving 20 people a day through our onsite Food Club, which provides cost-effective food for
    families and individuals struggling to make ends meet;
  • We are offering advice and guidance for people in need coming to our hubs, including signposting to
    partners and translations of Public Health England guidance into different languages;
  • We are continuing to support vulnerable people accessing our structured vocational training project.

If you can help, you can click on either of this links to provide food donations or financial donations.

Thank you 

Mustard Tree helps people to change their lives, secure better accommodation and economic wellbeingOur focus is on tackling both the causes and consequences of poverty and homelessness. Since 1994 we have created opportunities for people to help themselves through providing practical support, friendship, connections into work and improvements to health & wellbeing, alongside new experiences to encourage aspiration.

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