First published in The Felixstowe Flyer, December 2020.

News of not one but two potential vaccines against Covid-19 has brought fresh hope to millions of people around the world that we may finally return to “normal” in 2021, but do we really want to?

The Covid-19 pandemic has given us all valuable reminders about what is important. Family, good healthcare, a supportive community, green open spaces for recreation, access to technology and Netflix. On a more serious note, the pandemic has brought into focus that so much of our safety and prosperity is dependent on each other, and highlighted inequalities as fundamental as the inability of some families to feed their children without charitable support.

Charitable support for community services

The East of England Co-op has directly donated funds to support local foodbanks, AGE UK, and Community Foundations for Suffolk, Norfolk, and Essex, and donated a further £230,000 to kick start its Community Cares Fund, which enables East of England Co-op members to donate some or all of their dividend vouchers. The total dividend to be shared amongst 140,000 eligible members is a massive £2.1 million, representing over 40% of the East of England Co-op’s profits available for distribution for the last financial year. So far, members have donated almost £140,000 from their dividend, and the total stands at £370,000. From this, the Co-op have granted £250,000 to groups and charities who are providing services to support local people who need help with mental health and wellbeing, food poverty, reducing food waste, and supporting our ageing population.

The Tories are failing those most in need

Meanwhile, it has come to light that the Conservative Government spent £21 million of taxpayers’ money on a go-between to arrange and deliver lucrative PPE contracts, while telling the country it couldn’t afford to extend the free school meals scheme to feed hungry children during the October half term. in response to the free school meals campaign started by footballer Marcus Rashford, Suffolk Coastal’s Right Honourable MP Dr Thérèse Coffey responded “water cannot be disconnected though”. As an avid football fan, she must now realise she scored an own goal when she voted with her Cabinet chums against extending the popular free school meals scheme.

In a U-turn by the Government, which shamefully came too late to help hungry children during October half term, Dr Coffey MP, who has overall responsibility for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) which includes supporting people of working age, said “we want to make sure vulnerable feel cared for throughout this difficult time, and above all, no one should go hungry or be unable to pay their bills this winter”. Anyone trying to live off Universal Credit could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. A single person under the age of 25 receives a monthly standard allowance of £342.72, and a couple aged 25 and over receive a shared monthly standard allowance of £594.04. No wonder so many families on a low income are struggling to buy food. Demand on foodbanks is increasing. Many resident in Felixstowe have been impacted by a reduction in their benefits, reduced working hours, or losing their jobs through redundancy.

Donate to the Co-op Community Cares Fund

There are still approximately 1.7 million children in England who will miss out on free school meals because their family income isn’t quite low enough, so if you are fortunate enough to be in a position to help, please donate an item into the foodbank basket next time you pop into your local Co-op store, or if you are a member of the East of England Co-op, donate your dividend cheques to the Co-op Community Cares Fund.

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