Revealed - Foodbank demand hits all-time high in wake of Universal Credit rollout
PUBLISHED: 16:54 19 July 2018 | UPDATED: 16:55 19 July 2018
Stocks at one of Suffolk's largest foodbanks have plunged to critical levels, an investigation by this newspaper has revealed.
As demand for the region’s foodbanks soars to an all-time high, EMILY TOWNSEND talks to volunteers who warn they have a ‘real crisis’ on their hands.
Record demand and all-time low supplies are forcing charities – relied upon by hundreds of people – to fork out thousands of pounds of their own money to keep operations running.
Hard-hitting figures released by The Trussell Trust, one of the largest foodbank organisations in the country, reveal 129,261 three-day emergency food supplies were handed out in the east of England last year.
That’s the fourth highest in the UK, behind the North West, Scotland, and London.
But the newest problem affecting organisations across East Anglia – which bosses claim is pushing them to breaking point – involves changes to the benefits system.
The situation at our foodbanks
Stowmarket and area (including parts of west and mid Suffolk)
Dozens of people needing food parcels are waiting for Universal Credit (UC) payments to arrive – and since it was rolled out, teams at the Stowmarket and area foodbank say they have grappled with a surge in demand.
But volunteers there have just four weeks worth of stock left – as donations hit a record low.
“People are falling through the cracks,” said manager Mike Smith.
“About 35% of the people referred last month cited changes to the benefits system as the reason for needing food parcels.”
It has got so bad, Mr Smith said, that his team are faced with the prospect of deciding who gets food parcels and who doesn’t.
He added: “We are at record demand.
“The current situation is we’ve come to a critical level for our stocks.
“It makes it tricky to decide who gets food and who doesn’t, because we’re not here to be judge and jury.”
Two tonnes of food has been sent out by Stowmarket foodbank in just a month, with 71 parcels delivered to the town and surrounding area, including Needham Market and several mid Suffolk villages.
That’s 21 more than the average 50 packages, and a higher demand than ever before.
“We would only normally ever do that before Christmas time,” Mr Smith added.
In stark contrast to Christmas, public donations take a nose dive in the summer.
“Giving is always higher Autumn and Christmas – I think we all get busy with other things this time of year,” said Mr Smith.
Ipswich (including parts of east Suffolk)
Maureen Reynel MBE, of the FIND Ipswich foodbank, echoed his concerns – adding that she too isn’t getting enough donations to keep food on the shelves.
“It is serious,” she said.
“It’s really tough trying to keep up with money to purchase stock for the food parcels.
“In the last three weeks, I’ve spent £3,000 to get food on the shelves.
“Usually, on average, I’ll spend about £300 a week, but at the moment we aren’t getting enough donations.
“It is a real crisis. A lot of people needing food are waiting for UC payments to arrive.”
Colchester and Tendring
Meanwhile in Essex, the situation at Colchester foodbank is under close management.
On average, the organisation feeds 127 people per week – giving out 57 parcels.
But bosses are facing a year-on-year rise in applicants, with frontline workers referring 10% more clients.
Manager Michael Beckett said: “The two biggest reasons given for referrals are low income or problems with benefits changes or delays.”
Parts of Tendring, home to Britain’s most deprived district of Jaywick, are due to receive UC in the next few weeks.
Its impact there is yet to be seen.
What is Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is a payment to help with living costs – it is paid monthly, or twice a month for some people in Scotland.
Those on a low income, or out of work, may be able to receive it.
According to government chiefs, whether you can claim Universal Credit depends on where you live, and your circumstances.
If you already get benefits, it will replace the following:
• Child tax credit
• Housing benefit
• Income support
• Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
• Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
• Working tax credit
Universal Credit payments are made up of a standard allowance and any extra amounts that apply, for instance if claimants have children, a disability or health condition preventing them from working, or need help paying their rent.
For more details, visit the government’s website.
What’s the government view on the situation in our community?
Bosses at the Department for Work and Pensions said UC is working for most people.
They added: “The reasons why people use food banks are complex, so it’s wrong to link a rise to any one cause.
“We’ve already made significant improvements to UC, such as 100% advances which support people before their first payment, removing the seven waiting days, and two weeks’ extra housing support for claimants moving onto UC.”
What’s in a typical foodbank parcel?
Foodbanks often work with nutritionists to make sure food parcels contain balanced meals for those receiving them.
People can expect to see the following items in a typical food parcel:
• Breakfast cereals
• Pasta sauce
• Tinned beans
• Tinned meat
• Tinned vegetables
• Tinned fruit
• Tea or coffee
How will foodbanks fare during the summer holidays?
But for foodbank organisations across East Anglia, pressure is about to be ramped up – as volunteers prepare for “unprecedented demand” during the school holidays.
The six week period sees families feeding children breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.
At some foodbanks, lunch clubs are available during the holidays – contact your nearest facility for more details.
How does the referral process work?
According to the Trussell Trust, each foodbank works with different frontline professionals, such as doctors, health visitors, social workers and Citizens Advice.
Often, referrals are made using vouchers or similar methods.
Agencies use these vouchers to gather basic information, which helps them to identify the cause of the crisis a person or family is in.
Practical guidance is also offered, as well as suitable emergency food.
Visit your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau or follow this link for more information.
How you can help
As they enter another tough period, Mr Smith said: “The message to the public is please help us.
“We can only help people as people are helping us, so I would appeal to churches, to charities, to maybe other foodbanks with a surplus on certain lines, to get in touch because we’re in this together.
“We’re here in the community, for the community, meeting needs of the community.”
See below for details about how to donate.
How to contact a foodbank near you – to donate, or for further information, visit the links below:
• Braintree area foodbank (Trussell Trust)
• Clacton foodbank (Trussell Trust)
• Colchester foodbank (Trussell Trust)
• FIND (Families in NEED) Ipswich foodbank
• Gatehouse Bury St Edmunds and west Suffolk foodbank
• Harwich foodbank (independent)
• Haverhill foodbank (Trussell Trust)
• Stowmarket and area foodbank
• Storehouse foodbank Sudbury
• Waveney foodbank (Trussell Trust)
Various other foodbank organisations are available in East Anglia – operating out of churches and smaller venues, such as shops.
Look for your nearest using your chosen search engine, or contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau for further help and support.