The blight of food poverty in Doncaster is worse than many people realise, with a dramatic increase in the number of people suffering from malnutrition, say charity workers.
Demand for food vouchers is running at more than four times the level expected at one town centre food bank, which gives handouts across the borough.
The shock figures were revealed as the Archbishop of York attacked the ‘new and terrible’ blight of food poverty and increasing malnutrition in Britain.
In a long and often angry address to the Church of England general synod, the Very Rev John Sentamu said: “We suffer from blight – increasing poverty in a land of plenty.”
The archbishop, who also chairs the Living Wage Commission, said politicians needed to stop referring to ‘hard-working’ families and recognise they were instead ‘hard-pressed’ families struggling to survive despite their best efforts.
Reports of malnutrition and food poverty in Yorkshire ‘disgrace us all, leaving a dark stain on our consciences’, he said.
“How can it be that last year more than 27,000 people were diagnosed as suffering from malnutrition in Leeds – not Lesotho, not Liberia, not Lusaka, but Leeds?”
The only official figures for malnutrition in Doncaster refer to hospital admissions, and they have gone up dramatically over the past five years.
They show 89 admissions in 2012-13, compared to only 13 in 2008-09.
The total over five years is 243.
Helpers at the recently-opened Doncaster Foodbank at Christ Church in Thorne Road have been staggered by demand for the goods they have donated by stores and shoppers. Since it opened less than two months ago, volunteers have handed out emergency food supplies to 452 people - 86 of them children - right across the borough.
Managers of the food bank had projected they would be helping 800 people a year, but if current rates of use continue it could be around 2,500 recipients.
A total of 25 different agencies, from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau to health trusts and children’s centres, have issued vouchers which can be exchanged at Christ Church.
They receive three days’ worth of food to see them through a crisis.
Project manager Mark Snelson said: “I wouldn’t know how you would tell if someone is suffering from malnutrition, but everyone who comes to us with a voucher is also offered a sandwich, whatever the time of day, and very few people turn it down, which kind of suggests hunger.
“There are large numbers of people in Doncaster using food banks, which appears to put the town in a food poverty situation, and without the food banks they would go hungry.
“I don’t see that situation improving any time soon and think we’ll be here for a good while.
“It’s not just the long-term unemployed who need our food - there are people in work but on zero-hours contracts, so not able to claim benefits, who have got no work some weeks and no income to buy food.”
Archbishop Sentamu, who stressed the church was at the frontline of the fight against poverty, said food banks would remain a necessity for many as long as commodity prices continued to rise.
“This is the new reality,” he said. “Food banks aren’t going to go away any time soon. Prices are rising more than three times faster than wages. This has been going on for 10 years now. And for people slipping into poverty, the reality is much harsher.”