Three Local Food Banks Prepare for Universal Credit Roll out

Walton Charity recently helped organise a meeting between representatives of the three Trussell Trust Foodbanks in Elmbridge together with local Department for Work & Pensions’ staff to prepare for the roll out of Universal Credit, which is due to happen in November. There is already great pressure on the foodbanks; in the first half of 2018 the three foodbanks supported a total of 2,843 people with three day food parcels (including 1,052 children). This is a 37% increase in foodbank vouchers fulfilled compared with the first six months of 2017.

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In a recent blog (https://www.waltoncharity.org.uk/blog/2018/9/10/demand-for-foodbank-continues-to-grow), the Manager of the Walton & Hersham Foodbank reported that the reasons for the increase in need appeared to be wide and varied, ranging from families struggling with day to day finances to single homeless people. However, the increase in the number of children fed this year would suggest that families are the main users of foodbanks.

The introduction of Universal Credit is likely to have an impact on local resources. In July Trussell Trust reported that their foodbank network had seen a 52% average increase in foodbank use in areas after 12 months of full Universal Credit roll out (https://www.trusselltrust.org/what-we-do/research-advocacy/universal-credit-and-foodbank-use/), giving real to concern amongst our local foodbanks that they will face similar increases in need. Recent reports from Citizens Advice (Making a Universal Credit Claim, July 2018) and the National Audit Office (Rolling Out Universal Credit, June 2018) have highlighted that people can face lengthy waits for their first Universal Credit payment. This wait can come after delays in submitting an application due to a lack of digital skills, possible difficulties in accessing PC’s and the difficulty of gathering all the necessary paperwork together, all combined with the stresses of everyday life juggling on a low income. This may mean not just greater numbers requiring the help of foodbanks, but people needing that help for longer.

Elmbridge’s three foodbanks are sure that their local community will help them rise to the challenge of any increase in demand. Whilst stocks of donated food in the foodbank warehouses fell to extremely low levels over summer, they anticipate that many people will be extremely generous with donations of both food, and money, during Harvest Festival and in the run up to Christmas. Foodbanks know that the local supermarkets, shops and local businesses will do their best to help with the collection days for food. Foodbanks also aim to grow their teams of local volunteers to manage the logistics or collecting, warehousing and distributing additional food.

Walton Charity can support Individuals directly, via its “Funding for Individuals” programme, and can also award “Community Grants” to local organisations. The Charity also works in partnership to support and enable others to develop and deliver services helping those in need in the borough of Elmbridge. Like the local foodbanks, the Charity is also concerned that it will see significant increases in referrals and approaches from the community in 2019.

Case Study
“We didn’t know where our next meal was going to come from and we were really struggling.”

When Sarah’s partner recently moved in with her it should have been a happy time for them, but informing the council of this change to their circumstances resulted in a delay to their benefits, leaving them in a desperate situation.

“We are both on a low wage and we were left without any benefits for nearly two months. We found it really difficult,” explains the 35-year-old, mother-of-two.

Sarah admits that a big issue was juggling money for gas and electric, as well as for food. It was whilst they were at their local housing association discussing their struggles to pay their rent due to this benefits postponement that they were referred to their local foodbank.

“As a parent, to not know if you’re going to be able to feed your children is shameful and degrading,” she explains. “Always knowing the foodbank is there puts your mind at rest a bit; knowing you can go there and get support is brilliant.”

The family were glad that the foodbank was there to support them during this difficult time. Although she had no control of the situation, Sarah felt as if she was letting her family down: “It was very worrying. It’s scary as a parent as you don’t feel as if you’re doing your job properly. Obviously you want to be able to support your children in every way and that’s not possible when things like this happen.”

Sarah certainly didn’t expect a simple change in circumstances to have such a big effect on her life. “Living together as a couple and both working, I never thought would be so difficult,” she admits. “I thought it would make our lives easier and we would be better off, but we ended up really not in a good situation at all.” (https://www.trusselltrust.org/what-we-do/real-stories/sarah/)

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