Brexit uncertainty and job cuts 'fuelling spike in foodbank use'
Firms are slashing hours and cutting jobs over Brexit fears - prompting more people than ever before to turn to foodbanks for help, it has been claimed.
Frontline volunteers say the uncertainty surrounding Britain’s EU exit is playing a significant role in why so many people are struggling to put food on the table, alongside Universal Credit payment delays.
It comes as demand for foodbanks in parts of Suffolk and north Essex soared by as much as 50% year-on-year in February.
Stowmarket and area foodbank manager Mike Smith warned local people are “really struggling” at the moment after sending out 100 emergency food parcels this month, up 51% from 66 in 2018.
In Ipswich, more than 800 emergency parcels have gone out since January, while nearly 500 adults and 300 children were fed by Colchester foodbank in January alone.
Gatehouse in Bury St Edmunds sent out 68 parcels this February compared to 40 last year – an increase of 70%.
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“These are scary increases and we are seeing more and more people needing our help,” said Michael Beckett of Colchester foodbank, which will soon open six days a week.
“I am worried it will get even worse with all the uncertainty around Brexit.
“People are already leaving jobs, having their hours cut and that has a knock on effect and pushes people into crisis.
“We’re the biggest foodbank in Essex and fed 492 adults and 290 children in January alone.
“There is no clear plan for what’s going to happen with Brexit in terms of food, jobs, income – we’re preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.”
For the first time ever, the number of people referred from job centres to the Stowmarket foodbank overtook those from Citizens Advice.
Manager Mike Smith said this is largely down to a change in government policy allowing job centres to refer people to foodbanks, in a move he claims is to “soften the blow” of Universal Credit.
“Universal Credit isn’t working as well as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would like, and a change in their policy has meant job centres can now refer to foodbanks,” he said.
“It’s to soften the blow of Universal Credit, and people are still having a hard time with delayed payments.
“They’re unable to feed their families.”
Mr Smith said the foodbank, which also caters for mid Suffolk villages, already has a “massive queue of referrals” for March.
Of the February spike, he added: “It’s huge, and shows how much local people are struggling.”
What did the DWP have to say?
A DWP spokeswoman said job centres will signpost people to foodbanks and other services depending on their circumstances.
“The reasons for people using foodbanks are complex, and it would be wrong to link a rise to any one cause,” she added.
“Job centres will signpost people to foodbanks and other services according to their individual circumstances, as part of their support to help people manage their finances and get into work.”