The CEO of the Isle of Man Foodbank has told Gef that it has seen an increase in requests of support from struggling families over the summer holidays.
This year the gov decided not to continue the free school meal vouchers programme into the holiday period despite criticism from backbenchers.
Neal Mellon, Chief Executive of the non-profit organisation, said: ‘We’re starting to see an increase in the number of families contacting us as we go into the summer holidays and our existing clients are also telling us how it’s getting more challenging.’
This comes after the Education department announced in May that they would not be continuing the voucher scheme for pupils eligible for free school meals over the summer which helped over 2,000 children last summer, or about one in six school children.
Neal said: ‘The vouchers last year made a massive difference, even more so than the free school meal system as parents could stretch them out by shopping savvy. We were disappointed to not have any heads up from DESC on the decision as, although they are obviously not required to communicate with us, it gave us limited time to prepare.’
Madina, a senior volunteer at the organisation, said: ‘It’s not just feeding the kids that’s the issue, parents also have to deal with things like buying new school uniforms as we approach September.’
Short Term Fix, No Solution
When asked about the issue in Tynwald, Ann Corlett MHK, a member of the Department of Education said that last year’s vouchers were ‘a short term measure to help families during a particularly difficult time.’ In a follow up provided by Minister Alex Allinson to the President of Tynwald, he said that the number of children on free school meals as of January 31 this year was 2,205, an increase of 103 from 2020. Mr Allinson also provided the information that 93% of the vouchers given out last summer were redeemed by families.
Extracts from a June meeting of the Council of Ministers said that they noted that ‘due to the absence of definitive evidence on the level of need, further work would be undertaken within the Joint Needs Assessment for Children and options for legislative change would be explored.’
More Than Just a Foodbank
The foodbank was launched in 2013 and helps people across the island with collection sites supporting the north, south and central parts of the Isle of Man, although they’re known for providing food to those in need, Neal says they take a holistic approach to helping people.
He said: ‘People often say we should change our name because we’re more than just a foodbank, when someone gets in contact with us we like to meet them for an interview and produce an action plan to help them. For example we can provide food support whilst they pay off heating bills or pay their rent as the only thing worse than being hungry is being cold and hungry, or worse, homeless and hungry.’
Madina echoed this, saying: ‘People often come to us as a last hope and sometimes even just having somebody to talk to can help. If anyone is anxious about coming to us, we are always private with our help.’
On what needs to be done to address the issue of poverty on the island, Neal said: ‘There’s been some really good work done by the select committee on poverty and I hope this will continue with the new administration. The island needs a plan to address this issue, we haven’t actually got a definition of what poverty is on the Isle of Man. Poverty is not a linear thing, it’s not like one day someone just falls into it, and we need a plan that acknowledges that.’
Looking to the upcoming election, he said: ‘Everybody should be asking candidates how they will address poverty in the future, especially with prices on the island. Also, ask them “have they ever actually visited the Foodbank?” I’ve had many potential interviews with candidates and politicians who haven’t turned up or they’ve expressed their support in a campaign but never visited us again when they’re elected.’
Alongside providing food for struggling families, the non-profit began donating stocked up school bags to their clients two years ago and hopes to continue the support this year.
Anyone who wants to offer their support or reach out for help is encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring their freephone number at 08081624610, or 646999 and 311550.