Demand For Foodbank Continues To Grow
It is not long ago that there was no foodbank in in Elmbridge and even more recently some questioned if there was any need for one. Those days are long gone, and this week’s half-yearly figures from the Walton & Hersham Foodbank make for grim reading. Compared with last year the number of parcels distributed has risen by 65% and the number of people fed from the foodbanks has risen 80%, meaning that both have almost doubled.
We know we have been busy and the amount of food we have distributed from our foodstore is visibly higher than ever, but even we were shocked by these figures. We are working really hard to ensure we have sufficient food stocks to support all those referred to us with extra food drives and social media awareness. These findings from Walton & Hersham are simply mirroring that of other Trussell Trust foodbanks in the area.
The reasons for this rise appear to be wide and varied, since the foodbank is supporting many families who are struggling to buy food as well as single homeless people. We collect data on the main reasons given for being referred and these remain Benefit delays and Low income followed by Benefit changes.
There are many indicators, not least in the recent Guardian article by DWP whistle-blowers (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/22/universal-credit-it-system-broken-service-centre-whistleblowers-say?CMP=share_btn_fb) that the State is treating the foodbanks as if they were a statutory service with DWP staff increasingly using foodbanks as a safety net despite neither funding nor regulating them. It should be remembered that foodbanks only operate through the goodwill of volunteers. Luckily it seems that Elmbridge volunteers are rising to the challenge and are keeping the service running. Donations of food from corporate supporters like Waitrose and Sainsburys continue to increase, but there has been a wonderful three-fold increase in donations from the general public over the past year.
But who exactly is benefiting from our food parcels? The number of children being fed illustrates that it is families who are the main users of the foodbanks. I have noticed a significant increase in the number of referrals from both schools and children’s centres this year which may indicate more signs of stress in children. Recent research by Shelter (https://england.shelter.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/1545412/2018_07_19_Working_Homelessness_Briefing.pdf) suggests that 55% of the homeless are in low-paid work, so although we do not collect information on whether beneficiaries are in work or not, clearly many are trapped in low income or intermittent work which simply cannot stretch to pay all the bills.
On top of this we anticipates a further rise in referrals at the end of the year with the full roll-out of Universal Credit in Elmbridge which is due to happen in November.
When the foodbank was set up there was a widespread assumption that they would be a temporary measure, something that was needed to fill a temporary gap in the welfare state. I would love to be able to say that our foodbank was no longer needed. Sadly it is increasingly difficult to see an end to the foodbank programme. With large year on year increases in numbers and with the likelihood that Universal Credit will significantly increase demand and with further restrictions on benefits still entering the system, it seems to me that Foodbanks are going to remain an important part of our local communities for a long time yet.
Nina Malyon Manager - Walton & Hersham Foodbank