Ipswich/Haverhill: Benefits reform leads to spike in number of families seeking emergency

FAMILIES hit by benefits reform are being plunged into poverty and turning to Suffolk food banks in increasing numbers.

That is the claim of Citizens Advice chiefs and charities that distribute emergency food parcels to those worst hit.

Ipswich Families in Need (FIND) sent out 542 emergency food packets last year, compared with 1,083 in just nine months of 2012.

Maureen Reynel, director of FIND, said: “Most of it’s related to benefits being stopped or changed and people losing their jobs, and there’s no money there until things get started again. There’s a real squeeze on people with benefits and the cost of food has risen too.”

She said the majority of food parcels – which provide three days of emergency provisions – were handed out on a temporary basis.

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But she added: “One family had their 14th food parcel yesterday. They’re in real dire straits, and we have seen a spike in the school holidays when there are no school meals too.”

Henry Wilson, projects director at Haverhill Food Bank, said the centre had handed out 1,387 food parcels in the year to March 2012, compared to 1,234 in the 12 months to March 2011.

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He added: “We’d hardly heard of people staying in B&Bs this time last year but now we’re hearing it more and more. That’s because there’s not enough housing. We have had to help them out with food during this period, because you don’t get benefits.”

Both FIND and Haverhill Food Bank expect the situation to worsen next year when the universal credit scheme is introduced. It will replace jobseeker’s allowance, tax credits, income support, employment and support allowance – formerly known as incapacity benefit – and housing benefits with a single monthly payment.

Mr Wilson said: “People who are already vulnerable and not managing their money very well will get into even more trouble.

“There will be a temptation to use their housing benefit money for other things.”

Nelleke van Helfteren, deputy manager at Ipswich Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB), said: “We know there’s food poverty in Ipswich and people are struggling.

“There are organisations that give out food parcels and the requests for food parcels are going up.

“Having to find one-off expenses like school uniforms – they will go without a meal or a certain food in order to meet these very substantial costs.”

She added people with money worries should contact their nearest CAB centre as soon as possible.

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