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The Hailsham foodbank is fast approaching its eighth year of operation but is currently experiencing the most challenging period to date since forming in September 2012. With the country on extended lockdown and many members of the public either without work or on reduced wages, there has been a surge in people seeking government benefit to help make ends meet.

The Trussell Trust are an anti-poverty charity that run 428 foodbanks across the United Kingdom. They reported an 81% increase for emergency food packages from food banks within its network during the last two weeks of March 2020. This was compared to the same period from the year before as the coronavirus continues to affect daily life. 

However, this 81% increase within the network is much less than the 281% increase that the Hailsham foodbank has overseen during the same period. According to the English Indices of Deprivation 2019, Hailsham is the most deprived area within the Wealden region. It also falls under decile two for England as a whole. 

This is in addition to the 40% increase of referrals each year for the last two years the Hailsham foodbank has taken on. Julie Coates, manager of the Hailsham foodbank said: “2019 saw a dramatic increase in the amount of families being referred against single people, which resulted in more children being fed than adults.”

“On top of the huge demand, due to social distancing an operational change has also had to be implemented. We have a very small distribution centre and warehouse, so social distancing was not an option for people coming to collect food”, said the Hailsham foodbank manager. 

“The normal system involved people coming to us with the vouchers but now we deliver food at the times that the foodbank would have been open. This large increase in people accessing the foodbank along with panic buying in the shops means we are struggling to keep up with stock.”

The Trussell Trust say the top three reasons for referral to a foodbank are ‘low income not covering essential costs’, ‘benefit delays’ and ‘benefit changes.’

Universal Credit was introduced in October 2017 within the Wealden region and by the end of the first year, Hailsham foodbank experienced more than a 40% increase in people being fed. 

Emma Revie, Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust, said: “What we are seeing year-upon-year is more and more people struggling to eat because they simply cannot afford food. 

“Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty. Universal Credit should be part of the solution but currently the five-week wait is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics.”

The long waiting process is the main issue causing many to seek help at desperate times. The system can work but with no income for a significant amount of time, that is where the problems begin.

Work and Pensions Secretary of State, Thérèse Coffey said in an oral statement to Parliament: “1.8 million people have claimed for Universal Credit since March 16 to the end of April.” 

“Overall, this is six times the volume that we would typically experience and in one week, we had a tenfold increase.”

This is a huge number of people that may have to suffer the anxious wait for any payments to come through, especially with Hailsham already being the most deprived area within the Wealden region. 

The Trussell Trust are constantly campaigning for credit levels to be increased and upped to coincide with the rising cost of living. “It’s not right that this has meant some of us don’t have enough money for essentials and are being pushed to food banks. Now is the time to build on the foundations our government has laid. We need emergency measures to ensure people can makes ends meet during this crisis.”

Those not claiming Universal Credit, individuals, couples and families are still being left with difficult choices financially as employers have taken action. This is in addition to the people that have already been suffering financially before the pandemic began.

For some nothing has changed, and they are either continuing to work whether it be from home or as normal. However, some people do not have this option. According to the Office for National Statistics, 78% of the workforce have been furloughed who are employed by businesses that are temporarily closed or have paused trading.

For those unfortunate enough to have experienced symptoms and followed government advice, if their employers are not willing to pay them then Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) may be the only option. 

SSP is only £95.85 per week, which is less than the monthly Universal Credit payment if you’re over 25. It is clear to see given the current pandemic why this benefit is not only a viable option, but a desperate one for some people during this time.

No one wants to accept help from a foodbank for a number of reasons. “Embarrassment, denial and a feeling of failure are words regularly used” according to the Hailsham foodbank. Most people will wait until they are at their most desperate before asking for help. With a national minimum wage and benefit scheme that struggle to add up to the amount needed to cover essential needs, this is why thousands rely on foodbanks.

With increased referral rates since Universal Credit was introduced and due to the current national situation, there is no surprise more people than ever are turning to foodbanks. Especially in the areas already majorly deprived, the increased financial strain will only see these areas suffer more and rely on assistance for foreseeable future.

This still doesn’t change the vision that Julie Coates has for the future. She said: “Each person is in crisis, for many different reasons. Many of these people never thought they would ever need the help of a foodbank to feed themselves or their family.”

“As a Trussell Trust foodbank, we work alongside them with the aim of there being a future where nobody is in the position where they don’t have the money to buy food.”

However, the foodbank manager also said: “This large increase in people means we are seeing two or three times the amount than usual. Also, because of the restrictions in place we are unable to buy the items ourselves in the quantities and donations went down because everybody was in the same position.”

During the busiest time ever recorded for foodbanks, there is no sign of the charities being where they want to be anytime soon.

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July 2024