Families being pushed to the edge of poverty by coronavirus

Families who have been pushed to the edge of poverty by the coronavirus crisis are turning to food banks as a lifeline.

During a typical week at the L6 centre in Everton, 90 families would access the food bank for help.

But this figure, which rose to 150 families during the first two weeks of the pandemic, has since increased to a staggering 4,500 families, as of last week.

The demand comes as many people lose their jobs or find themselves struggling financially during the crisis and have been left with no other choice but to ask for help.

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From shop workers and waitresses to cleaners and agency staff, the number of people turning to the L6 centre has increased at such an alarming rate they've had to expand their food bank into the church hall next door.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics last week, showed that unemployment on Merseyside has reached its highest level in 23 years.

Across the region, an extra 24,000 people signed on to collect unemployment benefit last month – taking the region’s unemployment rate to 7% – a level not seen since the early years of Tony Blair’s first government.

To find out more about the people who have been hit by unemployment across the region and the desperate situations they have found themselves in, we spoke to the L6 centre about the vital work they are doing each day.

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Labour councillor Gerard Woodhouse, who runs the centre, told the ECHO: "Merseyside has always had a bad record for unemployment but it is getting worse.

"We've had people coming to us who have lost their jobs – they've not been furloughed, they've been finished.

"From speaking to people who've come into the food bank, 10 people have lost their jobs in the last week.

"That's a lot because normally people who come to use the food bank are people who aren't working or can't manage for one reason or another.

"But it's people who have had everything and then they go bump and suddenly they can't afford things like they used to. They come in here crying."

Gerard said: "They might have got themselves into a bit of debt which they could have afforded before but now they've lost their job all of a sudden and they don't have the money to pay for that car or that thing they liked anymore.

"We're seeing more of that, it's devastating."

As a predominately working-class area, Gerard said Everton has been hit particularly hard by unemployment during the pandemic.

He claims many of those who have lost their jobs over the last 10 weeks include shop and cafe workers, cleaners and agency staff.

Gerard said: "A lot of the people who have lost their jobs work in shops or cafes.

"When the shops reopen they won't be taking people back straight away until they start to make a bit of profit to build themselves back up.

"These are mums and dads who have lost their jobs and are worried about how they will afford things when their kids go back to school."

Gerard added: "I had one man come in on Monday who worked for a courier and he'd lost his job.

"I couldn't believe it. I thought their jobs would be fine because everyone is ordering things online but they delivered phones and no one is getting new phone contracts at the moment.

"He couldn't even claim anything because he it was only a new company and he didn't have enough self finance to prove how much he'd earned."

The help the L6 centre provide through the food bank includes boxes of food with everything from packaged food to fresh fruit and vegetables, with a separate service which provides cooked meals to those who are unable to cook for themselves.

Toiletries are also given to those in need of them, including items like soap, shampoo and deodorant.

People who contact the centre for support are given a time slot to come and collect their food in order to abide by social distancing measures, while others have it delivered to their door.

Gerard added: "It takes a lot for some people to come into a food bank for help.

"We've had mums and dads coming in who used to support us by dropping off bags of food or donating money but now they're having to use us themselves.

"A lot of families rely on their grandparents for help. Their nan would usually go out and buy that extra bag of shopping but they can't now because they're isolating."

A baby bank has also continued to operate at the centre during the pandemic, to help struggling parents who can access cots, prams, nappies and baby clothes completely free of charge.

People who have been referred to the service in recent weeks include victims of domestic violence, forced to flee their home with their children.

Gerard said: "We had a woman who was a victim of domestic violence. She was brought to our attention because she'd stood up to her partner and her own family stopped talking to her.

"She's been put up in a house and she had nothing, not a chair or a pot or pan.

"We furnished the house and gave her things for the baby, she didn't even have a cot to sleep in."

Despite the immense strain on staff and volunteers, no one is ever turned away or denied of the support they need.

Gerard added: "We'd usually be starting our school uniform shop at the moment but with everything that's been going on we haven't been able to.

"All the money we'd usually spend on the uniforms has been going on the food bank"

The L6 centre would not be able to continue the work they do without support from people in the local community and funding from the Lottery and the Steve Morgan Foundation.

To donate to the centre click here.