I was delighted to spend one of the first spring-like lunchtimes of the year at Esher Civic Centre, talking about foodbanks. The event was an informal gathering run by the three Elmbridge foodbanks (Walton & Hersham Foodbank, East Elmbridge Foodbank and Cobham Area Foodbank) to update and inform foodbank voucher holders about guidelines for issuing foodbank vouchers and to answer any queries or concerns.
Talking to those attending it was clear that many people have the wrong idea about those who use foodbanks. Around 40% of foodbank users are in work. These are people who are working but simply cannot get paid enough to live properly. Housing in Elmbridge costs on average double that for the rest of England, which leads to a very expensive local cost of living. Many of those doing decent jobs but on national pay rates simply cannot afford to live here. Foodbanks are not the answer, but they are the best short-term solution we have. Nothing would please those that run and volunteer in foodbanks more than to close them down, but there seems little danger of that in the immediate future.
All three foodbanks were keen to get across the message that there is no limit to the number of vouchers a family can have. If those that distribute the vouchers think vouchers are needed they will be honoured. All three foodbanks are members of the Trussell Trust network, which means users can redeem their voucher at any of the foodbanks – or indeed any Trussell Trust foodbank – if they are struggling to get to one that is open near them.
Compared with this time last year, the store of food is low following a period of continual high demand. Nina Malyon, from Walton & Hersham Foodbank, reported that use of the foodbank had increased 40% in the last quarter. She suggested that people might want to ask their organisations to organise food donation events to help push food stores up. All the foodbanks will be happy to tell you what they are short of, but as Hugh Bryant from Cobham Foodbank said, those who are in food poverty are just like us - they don’t eat different or special food. Whatever we might miss if we didn’t have it, so will they!
Many at the event were concerned about the impact of Universal Credit, which will be getting general roll-out in Elmbridge later in the year, particularly following the impact the benefits ceiling is already having. All the signs are that this will lead to increased issues around food poverty and further demands on the foodbanks. Sadly, it seems that foodbanks are going to remain an important element in our communities for some time to come.
To contact Walton & Hersham Foodbank, to offer donations, volunteer to help or for further information, go to: https://waltonhersham.foodbank.org.uk/