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Coronavirus Kent: Demand quadruples at Ramsgate food banks amid Covid-19 outbreak

Demand has quadrupled at Ramsgate food banks during the coronavirus crisis, says a Kent councillor.

Around 1,200 food parcels have been distributed to people across the town in Thanet, which has seen a four-fold increase from 300 over the last four weeks.

Donations of food waiting to be distributed at a food bank. Stock picture
Donations of food waiting to be distributed at a food bank. Stock picture

Ramsgate Cllr Karen Constantine (Lab), who has donated £8,000 of her own grant to support residents in her division, has called on Kent County Council (KCC) to set up a "central fund" to distribute cash to poorer towns.

However, KCC's leader, Cllr Roger Gough (Con), chose not to back the idea during his second cabinet virtual meeting yesterday and instead suggested councillors draw upon the "pool" of extra resources at Maidstone County Hall.

He said the the county council would continue to review and ensure that food banks can cope with demand surges, adding: "Members are free to use their grants in whatever way they judge most benefits their divisions."

Weeks into the crisis, staff at Canterbury Food Bank were distributing 2,200 meals over a seven-day period, which was four times its weekly average.

A surge in reliance on food parcels has been seen in Kent's poorer communities and places where universal credit applications have risen, including in Thanet.

Cllr Karen Constantine
Cllr Karen Constantine

Ramsgate Town Council workers, Salvation Army staff and representatives of Margate's Global Generation Church have been sending out more parcels than ever before.

The majority of these parcels contain tinned food, such as beans, as well as tinned meat and vegetables. Cllr Constantine urged County Hall chiefs to consider purchasing food parcels with "essential items" in her proposal.

She told Cllr Gough: "We are experiencing a fourfold increase in demand and think this is likely to increase further."

KCC's leader said the authority has gone "over and above" its duty to support vulnerable individuals in the community during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cllr Gough said a discretionary crisis income support service for people experiencing financial hardship, KCC's support and assistance service (KSAS), has seen an "unprecedented" rise in demand.

Kent County Council leader Roger Gough
Kent County Council leader Roger Gough

The daily rate in applications has more than doubled to 80, on average, with 920 applications received over the last four weeks, since April 1.

An increase to the £500,000 budget of KSAS is being assessed due to the recent spike in demand during the pandemic crisis. Another £200,000 has been set aside in KCC's Covid-19 pot which will go directly to local charities.

But, Cllr Constantine described the council leader's response as "lacking". She said that the KSAS system was too "bureaucratic" and time-consuming to use.

The Ramsgate member, who will be writing a letter to KCC's leader, said: "I think it's incumbent on KCC to find this money. I don't understand why they can't as a wealthy organisation."

Kent Police were forced to send officers to Medway food bank locations after concerns were raised about staff safety and stock supplies in the area's eight Trussell Trust food banks.

In Maidstone, several thousands of pounds in grants have been donated to local churches and community support groups, including Maidstone Day Centre, one of the largest food banks in the borough.

KCC's main opposition leader Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), who represents a division in the borough, added: "I think in Maidstone we are well placed and that's largely down to the role of members, but also to donations."

Read more: All the latest news from Thanet

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