Four ways to the end the need for emergency food in Northern Ireland

21 Apr

By Jonny Currie, Northern Ireland Network Lead at the Trussell Trust

The upcoming Northern Ireland Assembly elections on 5 May are a crucial opportunity to ask prospective Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to commit to measures that will end the need for emergency food in Northern Ireland. 

 

“We have to be proactive. What we don’t want to do is just hand out food packages as and when people need them. We want to be able to help them in other ways, finding out why they’re in that position and getting them back to where they need to be.”  

Northern Ireland Food Bank Project Manager 

 

Since the pandemic hit, more people than ever have experienced destitution, meaning they are unable to afford the essentials, such as food and shelter, that we all need to survive. As the cost of living continues to rise and communities try to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, families in Northern Ireland are struggling to stay afloat. 

There are 41 Trussell Trust food bank centres across Northern Ireland, serving people in all 18 Assembly constituencies. Our food bank data is telling a story of increasing need and it is simply not right that so many people in Northern Ireland are facing impossible decisions, unable to afford the essentials that we all need to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean.

Emergency food is not the long-term solution to addressing hunger and poverty 

Nobody should have to turn to a charity because they can’t afford the essentials, but more than that, it doesn’t address the underlying issues that force people to use a food bank to get by. We’ve spoken to people who use our food banks, food bank staff and volunteers, and other anti-poverty organisations about what the NI Assembly can do to end the need for emergency food in Northern Ireland.  

 

What are we calling for to end the need for emergency food in Northern Ireland?

 

1. We need a long-term plan to address poverty in Northern Ireland

Emergency food parcels and fuel payments are not enough to eradicate hunger long-term. The Northern Ireland Executive has the power to eradicate poverty and can do this through the development of a long-term strategy. The NI Executive has already agreed to this, but it still needs to be approved.  

 

2. We must ensure that everyone can buy the food and essentials they need for themselves

Raising income and reducing costs is always preferable to the provision of emergency food. When people in financial hardship can’t afford the essentials, they should be able to access immediate support.  

The NI Assembly can play an important role in using existing social security powers to increase incomes and move away from a focus on short-term solutions. Cash-based approaches are preferred by families with low-incomes because of their flexibility, dignity, safety and convenience.  

 

3. There must be support for local services to ensure people get help at the right time

Accessing emergency food should be a last resort, yet households with low incomes often face significant barriers when trying to access support. Independent advice and other related services should be properly resourced and offered in a consistent and co-ordinated way so people can access the support they need in one place rather than being passed from one agency to the next.  

 

4. The experience of people with lived experience of hunger and poverty should help shape the services they need

The NI Assembly should work directly with people affected by poverty to learn from their experiences and co-design better policy solutions.  

It is also important to work with food bank staff and volunteers to end the need for food banks. Food banks know and serve their communities and can support transformation to address the underlying drivers of food bank use.  

 

How can you help?

We need your help to reach candidates and call for steps to end the need for emergency food in Northern Ireland. Please use your voice and contact your candidate.  

You can use our template letter to contact your candidate and ask them to support our pledge to end the need for food banks in Northern Ireland. You can find contact information for the parties here.

 

“It is so hard to know what the future holds for our community, but we will be doing all we can to be at the forefront, providing support, advice and guidance until the time comes when there is no need for us.” 

Food bank Project Manager in Northern Ireland. 

 

Every single one of the 90 MLAs elected to the NI Assembly can use their power and influence to deliver the changes we need to work towards a Northern Ireland without the need for food banks.  

Working together, we can make change happen and end the need for emergency food in Northern Ireland. For more information about how you can use your voice to create change, please visit our elections page.

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Six reasons we’re excited about our new partnership with Deliveroo

14 Apr

By Penny Russell, New Partnerships Manager at the Trussell Trust

The food banks in our network gave out over 2.5 million emergency food parcels to people facing hardship last year. Nearly a million of these were given to children.  

Our new partnership with Deliveroo comes at the right time; as the cost of living continues to soar, the funds raised by the partnership will help the food banks in our network continue to provide the compassionate, practical support they do so well.  

 

How does the partnership help us work towards a future without the need for food banks? 

1. It’s going to make an impact where it is most needed

The funds raised will help local food banks in the Trussell Trust network provide support to hundreds of thousands of people facing hardship across the UK through vital grants and on the ground support. This will help support the provision of emergency food as well as help food banks to provide compassionate, practical support and advice to people who are struggling to make ends meet, so they can tackle the issues they’re facing and be supported to a place where they do not need to use a food bank again. The cost of living crisis is having an impact on all of us, but as food and energy prices soar and families across the UK are feeling the biggest squeeze on incomes in a generation, people who can least afford it are feeling it the most. 

2. Deliveroo customers share our vision

Research by YouGov showed that 90% of Deliveroo customers want to see a UK where food banks are no longer needed. We believe that everyone should be able to afford the essentials without having to turn to a charity for support – the fact that so many Deliveroo customers share our vision is very encouraging.  

 

3. It’s a brand new way for Deliveroo customers to donate to charity

This is the first time that customers in all four corners of the UK will be able to donate to a charity through a round-up function on the Deliveroo app. Customers will be able to simply round-up their bill when placing an order and help us work towards a better future. 

 

4. Deliveroo employees will be getting involved

The Deliveroo office teams will be taking part in a volunteering programme and sharing their expertise and knowledge, whilst learning about how food banks support people facing hardship and the work we do to address the issues that force
people to use food banks. This kind of collaborative work is so important when working towards a vision like the one we have!
 

5. We can learn from each other

Although the Trussell Trust and Deliveroo come from different backgrounds, there’s common ground and we have a shared desire to create a better future. Understanding our paths, and where we’ve come from, helps us work together to create a future where everyone has enough to afford the essentials. 

 

6. We can build understanding of hunger with new audiences

This partnership supports our work to build understanding and empathy of hunger and food bank need with new audiences. We hope to be able to evoke public will and create a movement for change to end the need for emergency food in communities right across the UK. 

 

“Everyone should be able to afford their own food, but as families face the biggest income squeeze in a generation, people are telling us they’re having to make impossible decisions between heating and eating and being forced to turn to food banks to feed themselves. Our new partnership with Deliveroo will help us support food banks to provide emergency food and in-food bank support to hundreds of thousands of people in immediate crisis, while we work towards our long-term vision of a future where nobody needs to turn to charity to get by. We’re incredibly grateful to Deliveroo and their customers for their support.” 

Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust

 

We always consider all new partnership proposals very carefully to ensure they’re aligned with our organisational vision and priorities. We know that food bank need is driven by economic need – that is, not having enough money to afford to buy food after paying for essential bills. The benefits of forming new partnerships are multiple. Beyond raising funds and awareness, they enable us to have new conversations about the structural issues and drivers that are pushing people to need to use food banks.  

Like all new potential partnerships, the Deliveroo partnership has been subject to Trussell Trust’s robust due diligence process which includes a review of Deliveroo’s equal opportunities policies, statements, working conditions and fair treatment aspects. The Trussell Trust will proceed to carry out due diligence tests with Deliveroo every six months.

We are confident that the partnership with Deliveroo will help deliver our commitments as outlined in our five-year Together For Change strategy to support people in hardship and help food banks serve their communities. As families across the country face the biggest income squeeze in a generation and more people are sadly pushed deeper into poverty, this support will be vital. 

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Five Things You Should Know About Universal Credit

5 Apr

By Anna Hughes, Policy Officer

The benefits system, Universal Credit, was introduced in 2013 with the intention to help people on the lowest income in the UK. As food and energy prices soar, it is now vital that Universal Credit is increased with the cost of living, to prevent more people from being pushed towards food banks.  

However in March, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was widely criticised for failing to utilise Universal Credit in his response to the cost of living crisis in his Spring Statement. 

So, what exactly is Universal Credit? What are the problems with it? And what changes are we calling for the Chancellor to make to ensure the system gives people enough to afford the essentials?  

 

  1. Universal Credit was set up to simplify social security

It is now the main benefit for anyone of working age who has a low income, whether in paid work or not. It rolls six ‘legacy’ benefits into one and was set up with the promise that it would simplify the social security system. 

In January 2022 there were over 5.6 million people on Universal Credit across the UK. 

Universal Credit was intended to be a way for the government to create a welfare system that provided “people with the confidence and security to play a full part in society”.   

Unfortunately, by design – through its in-built rules and cuts – Universal Credit is now a benefit that fails to meet these aims. 

 

  1. Universal Credit is currently failing to provide people with enough to afford the essentials

The standard allowance is an element of Universal Credit that is available for all claimants. It’s intended to cover daily living costs for working age adults (excluding housing, children, disability).  

These are at the lowest levels in 30 years and aren’t protecting people from destitution, meaning they are unable to afford the essentials we all need to eat, stay warm and dry and keep clean.
 

As living costs soar, low benefit rates are fast becoming an emergency. Our new YouGov polling found this winter, more than half (56%) of claimants have gone without one of the absolute essentials, and two in five (40%) have been forced into debt. More people are likely to be pushed into this position if the government fails to act. 

 

  1. The Universal Credit debt trap

The experience of Universal Credit is made even worse by design features which push people into debt:  

  • There is a five week waiting period for a first payment, which forces many people to take on debt to cover essential or unexpected costs, at the very start of their claim. The government denies that there is a ‘five week wait’ because all claimants have the option to take out an interest-free loan, the ‘advance payment’. But this loan causes further hardship, as it’s paid back from future Universal Credit payments, reducing the amount people have to live on until the debt is repaid, which could take months. 
  • Universal Credit rules mean benefits are deducted when people are behind on bills, regardless of whether it is affordable or not. People are often in debt through no fault of their own – for example, the five week wait or historic overpayments due to government mistakes. This would not happen in the private sector, where you would first be able to check if repayments were affordable before being forced to pay.  
  • The amount of Universal Credit received can be reduced even further by welfare reform policies such as the two-child limit and benefit cap. With benefit levels already set on the threshold of destitution any cap or deduction places families at risk of serious hardship. 

We urgently need to reform the design of Universal Credit to make sure it is not pushing people into debt. That should involve changes to the five week wait and advance payments, and introducing repayment affordability assessments. 

 

  1. Missed opportunities in the Spring Statement

Political choices got us here – but investment and reform of Universal Credit can play a crucial role in ending the need for food banks. Indeed, the government’s own data showed recently that severe food insecurity (a good indicator of who is facing hunger in the UK) fell most for households claiming Universal Credit in 2020/21, when the £20 uplift was in place.
Yet in
his Spring Statement, the Chancellor failed to utilise Universal Credit in responding to the cost of living crisis.  

This risks repeating the mistakes of the past – included the cuts and freezes to benefits which left benefits at their lowest level in 30 years before the cost of living crisis hit. 

 

  1. Nobody should be left behind

People on legacy benefits have unfairly missed out on vital support during the pandemic and must not be forgotten in any response to the cost of living crisis.  

The legacy benefits that existed before Universal Credit are being phased out, but approximately 3 million people still rely on this support, including many who are ill or disabled. Like Universal Credit, legacy benefits have failed to keep pace with the real cost of living. The government also chose not to include this group in the £20 uplift and so they endured the pandemic without any additional support – leaving many people facing serious hardship.  

We are asking that people on legacy benefits are not left out again, and that all benefits should be increased  by the forecast rate of inflation of at least 7%, not the 3.1% currently planned.  

 

What are we calling for?

The government must increase benefits to reflect the real cost of living. Looking to the future, the UK government must work with people who have lived experience of Universal Credit and develop a plan to ensure everyone can afford the essentials. This should include reforming the design of Universal Credit so that it pulls people out of, rather than pushes people into, destitution and debt, and delivering a new settlement of integrated local crisis support, backed by long-term funding, to empower communities to help people cover unexpected costs. To find out more read our report ‘The True Cost of Living’. 

 

The Chancellor must stick to his word: 

‘Everyone should be able to afford the essentials, and we are committed to ensuring that is the case’.

Rishi Sunak, Chancellor, September 2021 

  

If you, or someone you know needs help or information about how to get support, please visit Get Help

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Four things that we learnt from working alongside people with experience of being in debt to government – and how to fix the system

22 Feb

“At the food bank – they’re absolutely brilliant, [but] they shouldn’t have to exist… government and organisations are relying on them too much, they pass the buck to volunteers.” – Tim

What is ‘government debt’?

As the nation faces a cost-of-living crisis and recovers from the devastating effects of the pandemic, new research shows people who cannot afford the essentials are being pushed deeper into poverty by a rising tide of government debt.

This debt can take many forms, including paying back Advance Payments given to people on Universal Credit to cover the five-week wait for their first benefit payment, paying back council tax debt to local authorities, repaying benefit overpayments, and more. Sometimes some of these are referred to as deductions from benefits, but here we are primarily calling them debt.

Nearly half of people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network are in debt to the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions – the department responsible for social security).

People who have experience of being in debt to government have been working closely with the Trussell Trust and Humankind Research, to develop ideas for what a fairer repayment system might look like.

Here are four key things we’ve learnt:

1. The design of the social security system sets people up to fail

“You provide all the correct information. They make the decisions. They make the cock-up. Then you’re penalised for it” – Alicia

The five-week wait for Universal Credit means many people have no choice but to take an Advance Payment – a loan made to support people until they receive their benefit payment, to manage essential bills like rent and utilities. That leaves people often starting out with deductions to their benefits, trapping them in impossible situations.

Similarly, when the benefit system makes overpayments in error – most commonly with tax credits – people found they are powerless as to when or how the money is clawed back. Participants found it particularly crushing to have their income slashed when they had so little choice in taking on these debts.

 

  2. Government debt can cause destitution

“It was feed the kids or pay the council tax, I obviously chose the kids.” – Lorraine, 38

High rates of debt to government among people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network, particularly the DWP, is no coincidence. Participants explained how too often government debt pushes them over the edge into not being able to afford essentials, with no route out. This was particularly damaging for people also dealing with underlying challenges such as mental health conditions, precarious work, and social isolation.

 

 3. The mental health impact of government debt cannot be underestimated

“[E]very day I feel like my mental health is being stripped a little bit more” – Samira, 28

Financial and emotional impact go hand in hand. Debt can trigger a downward spiral that becomes all-consuming and unmanageable. This was often made worse by the fact that it is the government – which many hope would be a trusted source of support – that is failing people so severely.

 

 4. The government is often seen to be a less responsible lender than the private sector

“With other debts you would have all of this [information] but with government debts you don’t get any of that. It has an impact not just financially but also on your mental health.” – David, 43

Many found they had better experiences with private lenders because they made it clearer how much was owed, and were flexible in considering how much people could afford to pay. In contrast, the rigidity in government debt collection and lack of information about ways in which to push for more affordable options, were a key source of stress, crisis and destitution.

 

So how can we fix this broken system?

The participants drew out some vital recommendations for the government:

  1. Government must tackle the design features in the social security system which create debt, such as the necessity of taking on Advance Payment debts to cover the five-week wait for Universal Credit.
  2. Government debt collection practices should embed the principles of clarity, flexibility and respect at their core – learning from best practice in the private sector.
  3. Wider efforts are needed to increase resilience and protect people from destitution, by urgently strengthening the social security system, uprating payments in line with the actual rate of inflation this spring – that is, by at least 6% rather than the planned 3.1%.
  4. We need policymaking with and alongside people with lived experience, harnessing the insight and expertise others do not have. Their voices must be heard if we are to transform our social security system to one which – at the very least – protects people from destitution.

 

Read the full report: Debt to Government, Deductions and Destitution. 

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Learning to ‘smile with your eyes’ through the pandemic

4 Dec

By Kiaran Black, volunteer at NW Glasgow Foodbank 

 

Having previously volunteered at a food bank, Kiaran from Glasgow had no idea what was in store when she signed to volunteer at her local food bank in Autumn 2019, just a few months before the pandemic struck. 

“I had a break from volunteering but continued to donate food until in 2019 when I decided to sign up to be a volunteer at the Trussell Trust NW Glasgow Foodbank. I have personal experience of being on benefits and wanted to give back whatever I could to help others. It is ridiculous that in this day and age, in a G7 country, that there are people living in our community that do not have enough money to eat and feed their children.”  

 

“Changes in life and situations just happens, and they can happen to anyone.” 

 

The impact of lockdown  

In April, Scotland went into lockdown and the reality of the pandemic was slowly becoming apparent. “It felt like everything was turning on its head at the start of the pandemic,” said Kiaran, who currently volunteers at the food bank every Friday. “There were lots of new volunteers as others who were a bit older and needed to isolate. Volunteers, like myself, were coming in for double shifts to help out, we were receiving huge quantities of food donated by the public and supermarkets, while at the same time so many people were coming to us for help and food.” 

 

Learning to smile with your eyes 

Kiaran started to notice that keeping up the interaction with people was so much more difficult due to the social distancing rules. “We often had people queuing up in the rain before they were able to come in one door and then out of another door to collect their parcel. Pre-Covid, we would have offered people a cup of tea and a toastie but that became impossible.”  

 

“Wearing a mask, I try to smile through my eyes at people to bring whatever small amount of joy and normality I can, at a time when they are feeling so desperate and often alone.” 

  

Kiaran is passionate about her involvement as a volunteer, “I work from home on my own and so often don’t speak to anyone all day. I never experienced being a team player and didn’t think I would be any good at it, but I really love it!” 

“Since I have started volunteering every week, I am much less introverted and love chatting to all the other volunteers. It has made me much stronger, not just physically from lifting boxes but also emotionally. My skills at organising have improved, too, and when I arrive, I can see what needs to be done and just get on with it.” 

 

“Volunteering has taught me so much; I’ve learnt not to judge – life happens and for whatever reason people have no money for food. It can happen to anyone, and it breaks my heart and I only wish food banks didn’t exist, but they do and in times of emergency we are an essential support.” 

 

If you’ve been inspired hearing about Kiaran’s experiences of volunteering, why not check out our volunteering page and get involved? 

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Dignity through language

25 Nov

By Janet Homan, volunteer 

The food banks in the Trussell Trust Network work hard to ensure that their services are accessible to everyone in their community. Language should never be a barrier to receiving support when it is needed. Over the summer, a group of volunteers got together to improve the number of resources available to people for whom English isn’t their native language. 

 

Building the team 

Following calls from food banks from the network for the packing list to be available in a range of languages, a new volunteering opportunity was created and an amazing, diverse group of people stepped forward to give their time…albeit remotely and via Teams calls.  As we have all found during the pandemic, technology and the power of a PC or laptop have transformed how, and where we work.  In many cases, the same is true for our volunteers with our translators living across the length and breadth of the country.  Many were native speakers in the languages we were seeking; others were fluent in the languages after studying them at university or in the relevant country. 

 After completing online informal group interviews with all those who applied for the roles, we moved to the process of translating nine forms, lists and guides regularly used by food banks to share with people they help.    

 

The logistics 

Translating so many documents into different languages was a little tricky!  After sharing the documents with the volunteers and giving them time to complete the translations, a separate Teams call for each language was arranged with each group.  The calls meant that as a team we could compare the translations for the specific languages and iron out any nuances that the different translators had used. We hosted some fantastic discussions around the most appropriate language or grammar to be used, and our team felt humbled by the incredible knowledge and commitment of our volunteers.  

 

The feedback 

I’m pleased to say that after several months of remote calls and iterations of food-related documents the final translations have now been shared with the network, for the food banks to easily access.  Feedback to date has been positive with many food banks feeling that they are offering a little more dignity and compassion to those needing support at a difficult time.  Another amazing example of the willingness of people to answer the call for those most in need.  

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Eight years of support – Southend Foodbank

23 Nov

Natasha Copus Southend Foodbank Project Manager

Southend Foodbank first opened its doors on 1 November 2013. As the food bank prepares for its eighth anniversary, we spoke to Natasha Copus who joined as Project Manager four years ago.  

The food bank has eight distribution centres and a warehouse serving the seaside community in Essex. Due to the pandemic, a couple of the sites have temporarily closed, but there is always one open from Monday to Saturday to welcome guests.  

“When opened in 2013, we had one distribution centre open twice a week,” Natasha tells us. “The following year we fed 1,500 adults and 1,029 children. Last year we fed 3,546 adults and 2,885 children – an increase of over 150%.  

 

“It is a sad state that the need has grown so much in recent years, and we’ve had to open up more places to welcome our guests and to provide them with food and support,”

 

The food bank now has four paid members of staff and over 150 volunteers, and on average provides 250 food parcels for 700 people every month. “The Trussell Trust’s vision for there to be no requirement for food banks in the future struck a chord with me and led me to want to work with them, along with all the excellent work they do in the community,” she explained.  

“We have seen a sharp increase in demand for food parcels since the start of Covid and fear that this will only increase in coming months with the cut to the Universal Credit uplift in Autumn 2021, and also the staggering increase in fuel bills.”  

 

“People really will be having to choose between eating and heating.”

 

Rental prices increasing 

“Southend is seen as being in the commuter belt, being only 40 miles from central London, so with more people leaving London to move here in recent years, this has pushed up the rental prices making life even more difficult for local people.” Natasha goes on to explain. 

 

Support from specialist volunteers  

To run the service over eight sites, Natasha is supported by a wonderful team of staff as well as over 100 active volunteers, some of whom have taken on specialist volunteering roles including fundraising, transport co-ordinator, a volunteer’s co-ordinator, and an IT specialist for all those technical issues, who is also their voucher co-ordinator.  

 

Pandemic problems  

Due to the pandemic, the food bank has not been able to welcome guests into the centres to provide additional help and signposting, and Natasha hopes that they will be able to invite people into the sites once again to have a chat and cup of tea, rather than having to wait outside to just pop in quickly to collect their parcel.  

“Having to queue outside a food bank is not easy for most people and not the dignified approach we would like to have in place. The Covid restrictions have been a struggle for both volunteers and guests, and hope that things will get back to normal soon.”  

 

Looking to the future  

Southend Foodbank is embracing new technology with an app called ‘Bank the Food’, which was designed by a tech company after inspiration from children at a local school. The app, which has been nominated for a global competition, alerts people to what their nearest food bank needs when they walk into a supermarket, so they can pick up the required items and drop them into the collection point in store at the end of their shop.  

 

“Although, of course, there is still an immediate necessity for us to be here, I hope this will lessen; in the meantime, we will continue to provide care and commitment with dignity to people in need and be respectful of the trust they put in us.”

 

 

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Spotlight on the vital contribution of volunteers in the Foodbank Network

8 Oct

By Miranda Beebe, Head of Volunteer Management 

Food banks are truly remarkable at connecting people with a passion to serve others – to come together and challenge injustice across the length and breadth of the UK. Every day in the network, we know thousands of volunteers turn up to stand alongside people experiencing crisis and show them solidarity and friendship.  

Today, we want to put the spotlight on Worcester Foodbank, who we noticed had logged 5,500 hours amongst 87 volunteers since February, when they first started using the volunteer management system, Assemble. In reality, the number is far higher as the 5,500 doesn’t account for additional hours for collections, deliveries and staying late after shifts. 

 

The impact of the pandemic

Throughout the pandemic, the food bank has been very busy, particularly in the winter with large volumes of everything – they had to get two additional storage sites in order to manage all the donations coming in. On top of the logistical hurdles, they were operating with just a third of their normal volunteer numbers because of social distancing measures, which also meant they couldn’t take on many new volunteers despite over 100 signing up to help. When reflecting on sheer volume of activity – the warehouses, the increase of deliveries, the running of the food bank – Ruth Allsopp, the Operations Coordinator, spoke about the consistency of the time and support they were able to provide to people in crisis with the help of their volunteers. 

Ruth also talked about the frustrations with the pandemic around limiting the amount time they had to meet and chat with people who visited the food bank, either to donate food or receive support. They’re all looking forward to the more social aspects of food bank volunteering.  

“We’ll all be happy for a quieter time when we can spend more time with clients again.”

Ruth 

 

 

Going above and beyond 

The Team is always coming up with new ways to enhance our service, thinking of ways to make the best use of our donations.”

One example was thinking about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day this year. Having been inspired by seeing toiletry packs and certain non-food items being donated over the Christmas period, volunteers asked if they could make little treat bags to either give to people visiting the food bank as a gift from the food bank or as something people visiting the food bank could give to their own mother or father. The volunteers made notecards, explaining that this was a little extra for them to do with as they wanted and gave out the treat bags weeks in advance of the actual day in order to reach as many people as possible.  

The sense of unity and empathy amongst the volunteers at Worcester Foodbank is strong, which the food bank fosters, led by Ruth. There are monthly newsletters for volunteers, emails when there are any policy or operational changes, and 20-minute briefings before each session, three times a week. The briefings are safe spaces for volunteers to raise any issues or questions, as well as sharing stories from people who visited the food bank. Building this sense of community amongst teams means they quickly pick up things from each other, and any changes or learnings are easily passed on.  

Worcester Foodbank’s engaging social media accounts are also the result of a dedicated volunteer, who’s a PR and marketing professional by day. Ruth drops the volunteer an email each week on headline items, which are then translated into fresh content. The volunteer has also been key in building the relationship between the food bank and local media. 

“Everyone goes above and beyond in what they’re doing.”

To Worcester Foodbank and anyone else empowered by their volunteers, we’re so proud to be supporting you to become places of transformation.  

 

For more information on volunteering, click here. 

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Party conference and the Universal Credit cut: The Chancellor would do well to listen to his own party members ​

7 Oct

By Sumi Rabindrakumar, Head of Policy & Research

Party conferences are usually full of slogans; at the Trussell Trust, we try to push political parties to put some meaning behind them. This year, at Labour and Conservative party conferences, we discussed how we can end the need for food banks, drawing on frontline experience from experts in our network, lessons from the pandemic, and insight across levels of government. After another record number of emergency food parcels provided across the UK (a shocking 2.5 million in our network), we urgently need action.  

Hopeful signs and policy solutions were offered across the political parties 

Reflecting on the events we held and attended, there are reasons to hope that – across the political spectrum – people are starting to listen and come together to press for the changes needed so people no longer have to turn to charity to put food on the table.  

We heard powerful testimony from Jenni, who had received support from a food bank in our network, who urged MPs to understand the difficulties of managing on such a low budget. And we heard from Jack Monroe of the grind of acute poverty, its long-term effects and the vital importance of recognising the reality of people’s living situations. 

 

“I can’t impress upon you enough the value of being seen and heard as a human being when you are practically invisible.”

Jack Monroe

 

Party members, councillors and MPs across the political parties voiced deep concern about the reality of not being able to afford the essentials like food, heating, and housing, and recognised that mass distribution of charitable food is no long-term solution. 

 

“We must tackle this horrendous inequality”

Conservative councillor

 

Politicians and policy experts discussed practical steps forward. Some focused on a strong social security system, including investing in Universal Credit (“an unfinished project”, argued one Conservative MP), increasing Local Housing Allowance covering private rent, long-term funding for local welfare, ensuring affordable and fair collection of debts to local and central government (from council tax to tax credit overpayments) and improving access to support for people with no recourse to public funds.  

Others focused on tackling the longer-term drivers of need for food banks, including building social housing, and addressing precarious work. There was widespread recognition of the importance of both local solutions driven by the knowledge of communities, as well as strong, national systems of support to ensure people have enough in their pockets to afford the essentials.  

Progress is undermined by this week’s decision to abandon people on the lowest incomes 

Yet at the same time, 6 million households receiving Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit are being dealt a crushing blow, as they begin to have £20 removed from their weekly budget. That’s £20 less a week on food, heating, clothes, school uniforms, and toiletries. £20 less a week as we head into a spiralling cost of living crisis.  

The bubble of hope from the engagement we saw from party members, backbenchers and frontbenchers across the political parties was swiftly burst by statements from the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, apparently forgetting the vital role of social security during the pandemic. 

I was struck by an event on social housing this Tuesday. The common theme across the speakers was how long they had been talking about solutions to deliver more social housing, and affordable social rent. This is the reality faced by households on the lowest incomes: social security that has steadily been cut, without any alternative solution to afford the essentials. Food banks have picked up the pieces, but this isn’t right.  

Why should people on the lowest incomes pay for the political failure to deal with problems like unaffordable housing and low wages? How long should people be forced to survive on social security that has been pared to the bone, while they wait for new promises of change to take effect? And what does the Chancellor’s rejection of social security investment say for people who need extra support to live a dignified life – because they are taking on unpaid care for the previous or next generation; because they lose their job; because they fall ill; because they have a long-term health condition which means they may never be in paid work? 

Still time to act 

The Chancellor said last week that “everyone should be able to afford the essentials”. The Prime Minister said yesterday that he would “promote opportunity with every tool we have”. If these slogans are to have any meaning, the Chancellor must change course in his upcoming Spending Review and make the increase to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit permanent. We cannot hope to unleash people’s potential if we are pushing them into deep poverty at the same time. 

The government saw the living standards emergency that the Covid-19 pandemic would unleash and took action. As Matt Stallard, chair of trustees for Manchester Central Foodbank asked on our panel, why isn’t the continued hunger and destitution in our communities also an emergency? Surely it is, and surely we must act. A first step would be to keep the £20 a week lifeline. 

If you agree that the government should reverse its decision to cut Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit, text RISHI followed by your message, to 88080 (no charge). We’ll bring your messages to Westminster, at the Chancellor’s doorstep, this month. 

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“We are one step away from food banks and working consistently to keep our heads above the rising tide.”

28 Sep

By Alex, who will be hit by the £20 cut to Universal Credit if the Government goes ahead with their plans 

The numbers around the impact of the planned cut to Universal Credit are, by now, more familiar; 1.2 million people could be forced to skip meals, 1.3 million people could struggle to heat their homes this winter and 900,000 people tell us they’re very likely not to have enough money to travel to work or make essential trips like medical appointments. But behind these stats are the people who live in our communities, who will feel the devastating impact of the cut. 

Alex and his wife applied for Universal Credit when his job came to a complete standstill during the pandemic and his wife’s mental health deteriorated. Since then, they have been struggling to stay afloat and have skipped meals to be able to feed their son. 

“I am a freelance photographer who struggles immensely with depression brought on by previously undiagnosed ADHD. I have worked all of my life since leaving school at 16. I left school and went straight into hospitality, where I quickly progressed through the ranks and became a sous chef and later became an executive chef. I’m not afraid to work by any means, working less than a minimum of 60 hours a week makes me feel lazy. I became a photographer in order to document the lives of people in the hospitality industry. I have worked alongside Michelin star chefs and their restaurants and also documented a few celebrity weddings.

The impact of the pandemic on our work

Life was pretty stable and enjoyable before the pandemic. My wife and I were pretty well grounded in our careers, and we welcomed our first child into the world. But during the pandemic my work also came to a complete standstill. This in turn forced me to look after our son full time as he was still too young for nursery.

Last year my wife was also diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder. Her health has deteriorated immensely due to working throughout the pandemic. She has had to increase her medication dosage in order to find a balance between work and motherhood, though the medication has adverse effects on her wellbeing and ability to work. We had both made every effort to seek outside help in order to create a safer working environment for her. Try as we may, every effort has been in vain as her employer did not appreciate or accept her mental health issues. She has since had to leave that environment due to suffering with suicidal thoughts.

Since my son has turned one and the nurseries have opened up again, we have been able to access childcare in order for me to contribute to our monthly outgoings and ease the emotional financial pressure felt by my wife.

But despite my efforts, the work hasn’t been as frequent, and we are now faced with childcare costs that are equal to a second mortgage. We have considered the current government’s suggestions to retrain and find “better jobs” but this would likely mean we would both be likely to have to work traditional working hours, thus increasing our need for extra childcare, increasing our monthly outgoings, and essentially changing nothing about our current financial hardship.

Our main focus is to provide a safe environment for our son, who is the kindest, happiest little boy you could ever wish to meet. We work tirelessly to create a balance between being available to him as parents and being financially safe.

 

Applying for Universal Credit

We both made the decision to apply for Universal Credit in order to help with our mortgage and childcare costs. The two of us have sacrificed meals in order to give whatever fruit and veg left in the fridge to our son.

We don’t want to rely on the government for our income. We want to be able to work for our money and forge our way through the world. We want to teach our son that hard work, self-respect, and passion will bring satisfaction and happiness. We are one step away from food banks and working consistently to keep our heads above the rising tide. This whole situation is worlds away from where we’d ever wish to be. The sad thing is, we know it’s not just us in this position.”

We’re grateful to Alex for sharing his story and for highlighting why it’s so important to Keep the Lifeline.  

 

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