Election latest: food banks

Desperately low-paid drive sharp rise in Hastings food bank demand

Hastings’ main food bank has just had its biggest October on record, with a sharp increase in those being referred for emergency food aid.

The government’s cruel benefits system is driving thousands more to rely on food banks. And the situation this winter is getting worse.

Natalie Williams, community engagement manager at King’s Church, where the food bank is based, said in an interview this week: “Not only have we seen that 118% since Universal Credit came into Hastings in December 2016, we’re seeing it’s going up and up.”

The record October follows a record September and August.

“We’re worried about this winter,” she said. “If the trend of the past few months continues, we’ll see about a 15% increase this winter.”

This is over and above the increases the food bank has already seen.

Peter Chowney and Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s shadow minister for communities and local government, meet support staff at Hastings’ Trussell Trust food bank

“The main reasons people come to us our things like benefit changes, benefit delays and the five-week wait for Universal Credit,” she said.

“But what’s also happening now, we’re seeing a massive increase of people being referred who are on low incomes. So what that tells us is that actually there are lots of people now who are living in perpetual crisis, rather than just having an acute crisis when something happens.”

Here’s just one example of extreme need. Natalie said: “I had a conversation recently with a nurse working in care homes and a mistake was made with her benefits, because she only works a few hours a week. Instead of adjusting her claim it got accidentally closed. That meant to reopen it would be another five-week wait. So she didn’t have money for five weeks.”

‘There’s been a massive
increase of people
referred to us who
are on low incomes’

Ms Williams stressed, though, that agencies would still be able to refer people to the food bank. And the food would come in, thanks to Hastings peoples’ “great community spirit”. But she added: “We’re rather we weren’t necessary.”

Hastings is one of the biggest food banks in the country – it gives out a tonne of food a week. 

And its the same throughout the UK. Food banks nationally have just had their busiest six months up to September with more than 820,000 emergency food parcels given out, reports the Trussell Trust charity.

During the six months, 823,145 three-day emergency food parcels were given out at the Trust’s food banks to people in crisis in the UK. More than a third of these (301,653) went to children.

This is a 23% increase on the same period in 2018 – the sharpest rate of increase the charity has seen for the past five years.

The main reasons for people needing emergency food are low benefit income (36%), and delays (18%) or changes (16%) to benefits being paid, says the Trust, which runs a network of food banks throughout the country.

The new figures come just a week after the Trussell Trust released State of Hunger, the most in-depth study ever published into hunger and the drivers of food bank use in the UK. The research revealed:

The average income
of households using
food banks is only
£50 per week

  • The average weekly income of households at food banks is only £50 after paying rent
  • One in five have no money coming in at all in the month before being referred for emergency food
  • 94% of people at food banks are destitute

In next month’s General Election the Trussell Trust is calling for politicians of all parties to pledge to protect people from hunger by ensuring everyone has enough money for the basics. 

It wants to see the ending the five-week wait for Universal Credit; benefit payments to cover the cost of living; and investment in local emergency support for people in crisis.

Labour agrees that an urgent overhaul of the system and greater funding is needed.

Labour candidate for Hastings & Rye Peter Chowney:
“I firmly believe that treating people fairly when they fall on
hard times will help them get back on their feet”

Labour parliamentary candidate for Hastings & Rye, Peter Chowney, said: “The early roll-out of Universal Credit in Hastings and cruel benefit sanctions have led to extreme hardship and increased levels of homelessness.

“Benefits should help people find fulfilling jobs, not punish them, and not force them to focus solely on how they’re going to find the next meal for their children.

“I firmly believe that treating people fairly when they fall on hard times will help them get back on their feet. As MP, I would fight to ensure that everyone in the constituency could live with dignity and comfort, whatever their financial circumstances.”

Labour is pledged
to create a fairer
system to lift
people out of poverty

Labour has pledged to scrap Universal Credit, creating a new social security system that would genuinely lift people out of poverty and add £2 billion additional funding for benefits

The party would also end the benefits cap and scrap the hated bedroom tax, and end “punitive” benefit sanctions

Also needed is a reform and increase benefits for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. And Labour would restore benefits for housing costs for 18 to 21-year-olds.

About The Author

Rick Dillon, Press Officer for Peter Chowney