They’ve forgotten about us again. We are criticalSam Gilchrist, West Northumberland Food BankSam Gilchrist, West Northumberland Food Bank
While Goodwin said an exemption for food bank volunteers was critical in the short term, she argued only policy changes would end the need for food banks.
“A first step would be for the government to prevent yet more people from falling into poverty by cancelling the impending cut to Universal Credit,” she said.
Sam Gilchrist, manager of West Northumberland Food Bank, is currently self-isolating after coming into contact with someone infected with coronavirus.
While her self-isolation has not yet disrupted their food parcel delivery service, she urged ministers to add food bank workers onto the list “so that [they] don’t have to skate on thin ice.”
West Northumberland Food Bank, an IFAN member, home-delivers roughly 80 emergency food parcels a week.
It covers a dispersed geographical area spaced over three towns. Rural food banks are particularly vulnerable to self-isolation disruption.
“If [self-isolation] expands to our logistics team it would be a struggle,” Gilchrist told The Big Issue, adding: “99.9 per cent of what we do is done by an army of volunteers and it really deserves some recognition.”
The government criteria for exempted staff is people working in “critical elements of national infrastructure”, which Gilchrist said should include the volunteers that keep her food bank going.
“We are critical,” she said. “They’ve forgotten about us again. Don’t forget that we’re here, we should be on the critical workers’ list as well.”
The latest concerns build on frustrations from food bank workers about not being prioritised alongside other frontline workers in the Covid vaccine rollout.
Gilchrist echoed calls for the government to invest in long-term structural policies to drive down poverty. “I think we’re going to have a bit of a tsunami when that [£20-a-week Universal Credit] uplift ends,” she said.
The exemption list will run until August 16 when all fully-vaccinated people will no longer need to self-isolate.
The government was contacted for comment but did not respond in time for publication.