THE number of people using food bank vouchers in York has risen in the past four years.

But councillors fear the "stigma" of going to food banks or claiming free school meals for their children means many struggling families are not getting as much support as they need.

A total of 4,026 food vouchers were claimed across the city in 2018 - compared to 3,281 in 2015.

And having a low income was the main reason people sought help.

Cllr Martin Rowley, chair of the food poverty subcommittee, said food banks and other groups working to alleviate poverty in the city say use of their services is increasing.

And he highlighted work being done by schools to stop the stigma of receiving free school meals and the extra expense of pricey uniforms.

He said: "There is still a stigma around free school meals. Nowadays - particularly in some of the modern schools - nobody knows whether they have paid for that dinner or if it's a free school meal. And that's all work that's being done to try to lose the stigma around free school meals.

"Parents and carers can now look to register their child for free school meals almost anonymously - it can be done online, verified and checked online.

"Free school meals are there for a reason - and it's something that we want to see taken up not just for the benefit of the child but also the school.

"I have been a school governor since 1993 and this has been an issue from way back when.

"There's always been a stigma around free school meals so I think what schools are trying to do is destigmatise it.

"The benefit to the school and to the child is that if a parent or carer registers their child for free school meals, the school receives an increased pupil premium - which is the amount of money they get per pupil from central government. And that will benefit not just that pupil but will also benefit other children in terms of money to enhance education."

The committee will make recommendations on how poverty can be eased in the city - which will then be presented to senior councillors.

Cllr Rowley added: "I think there is a social responsibility on the council to alleviate poverty within the city. "

A City of York Council report says in-work poverty is on the rise, adding that this is a "strange phenomenon" because minimum wage has increased - but that the loss of in-work benefits is causing problems for people.

The report, written for a meeting on Monday, adds: "We did not see the notion of food poverty in York before 2010 and there were no food banks in the city at that time."

"However, food poverty is now recognised in local communities in reaction to national reductions in welfare benefits and could potentially be attributed to the £30 billion cuts in working age social security since 2010 that are still being rolled out."