A food bank and financial advice service in north Derbyshire has seen a “harrowing” increase in demand during lockdown.
A charity has warned that debt is the “sleeping giant” of problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.
The fallout from the health crisis has already seen a surge in the numbers of people asking for help – whether it’s from food banks, mental health services or other charities working on behalf of vulnerable people.
The surging numbers of UK job losses means families who were already struggling are being joined by households who never dreamt they would find themselves needing universal credit or unable to put enough food on the table.
The Freedom Community Project in Bolsover, north Derbyshire, runs a food bank and financial advice service. It has seen a “harrowing” increase in demand during lockdown.
Food bank volunteer Janet Koszegi told Sky News: “It gets to you, you have got to be professional when you are talking to people but inside you are thinking, ‘Oh my gosh’.
“At the end of it you have to go to someone and say ‘look this is quite harrowing’ – knowing that somebody hasn’t eaten for three days, a family that hasn’t eaten for three days – that case happened quite recently.”
Calls to the project’s helpline have quadrupled during lockdown to 2,000 a month.
Mark North, who runs the charity in the former mining area, told Sky News the levels of debt are his biggest fear.
“I characterise it as the sleeping giant… it is going to waken, it’s starting to.”
He said he was concerned for those “in one of those roles that isn’t going to get back to work as quickly”, or who are “self-employed and relying on other people that can come back to bite you before you can actually generate the money to pay them off”.
“That is my fear – that it is sleeping there, waiting, it’s going to waken and it’s going to cause quite an issue in our communities.”
Local resident Stuart Wishart, who was picking up food parcels for a relative from the Freedom Community Project’s food bank, told Sky News: “There are people out there that will not talk to anybody… They are ashamed of doing it, ashamed of coming here.
“They think it’s cadging… it’s just borrow, borrow, borrow all the time.”
While some payment holidays will be extended others will not be, and a ban on face-to-face collections for bailiffs is due to end on 23 August.
Dame Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Whether it’s the 1.3 million households we estimate have missed a council tax payment or the 2.6 million renters who have missed or expect to miss a rent payment, there are likely to be serious consequences for people who’ve fallen behind on their bills.
“The government took bold action at the start of the outbreak to try and protect jobs and incomes. It’s now time for them to be just as bold in dealing with the UK’s impending personal debt crisis.”
The Money and Pensions Service has said it expects a 60% increase in the demand for debt advice by the end of 2021.