LONDON: A leading figure in the UK’s Muslim community has been appointed to chair one of the country’s largest independent food banks, vowing to confront the poverty that has spiked in his community since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
British-Pakistani Londoner Muddassar Ahmed rose to prominence by heading one of the UK’s most influential communications firms and advising the government on countering Islamophobia.
But, he told Arab News, the pandemic and its ensuing economic crisis showed him just how important it is that he looks local for his next endeavor.
Ahmed has now taken the reins as chair of Bow Food Bank, and has set his sights on countering one of the most critical — and underreported — issues to emerge as a result of the pandemic: Food poverty among Britain’s ethnic minorities.
“What’s more important in life than making sure people in your local community are fed? I can’t think of anything more important than that,” he said.
Since the start of the pandemic, the number of people in Tower Hamlets — the part of London where Ahmed grew up, and the location of Bow Food Bank — relying on food banks weekly has increased by 800 percent.
“Many of those coming to us at Bow Food Bank have never used a food bank before, but the national COVID-19 emergency has drastically changed their circumstances,” Ahmed said.
“Some aren’t able to afford childcare, some are on zero-hour contracts, and some have been made redundant.”
The charity is run by volunteers, which means that every penny donated by the public goes toward food for the local community.
These donations are now feeding over 750 adults and 1,100 children every week. The majority of those coming to the food bank are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
“When the pandemic began, I wanted to help this community — my community. Charity begins at home,” Ahmed said.
Tower Hamlets is home to the largest Muslim community in the UK, but has found itself in the midst of an acute poverty crisis because of the pandemic.
With a poverty rate of 39 percent, it is the most impoverished borough in London, and has the highest child poverty rate in the UK.
For these people, Ahmed said, “this isn’t about deciding what to eat tomorrow, but knowing whether you’ll have anything to eat at all.”