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More people turn to food banks

By Mark Andrews | Shrewsbury | News | Published:

Karen Williams is not in the least bit surprised by new figures which show that almost a million adults used food banks last year.

"We're feeding an average of 63 people a week," says Mrs Williams, project leader of Shrewsbury Food Bank Plus.

"We're feeding an average of 63 people a week."

Her comments come in the light of a new study by the Church of England's social action charity, which says more needs to be done to help those struggling at the margins of society.

The results of the Church Urban Fund's food poverty survey paint a "deeply troubling picture of food insecurity throughout Britain," says the charity's executive director Paul Hackwood.

The report says parents are skipping meals to allow their children to eat, and others have missed celebrating special occasions including birthdays because they cannot afford them.

Mr Hackwood adds: "Those affected don't just go hungry or poorly nourished - they suffer isolation, are excluded from participating in social activities and experience considerable anxiety."

Mrs Williams says this reflects her own experiences of running the food bank in Shrewsbury.

"We notice a lot of isolation out there, a lot of poverty of opportunity for many of our clients," she says.

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It is a similar story over in Telford.

Erin Aston, of Telford Crisis Support, has also noticed an increasing number of people in jobs who are needing help from the food bank.

"Also we do see cases where parents have gone without meals to ensure that their children have something to eat," she says.

"Issues with benefits – including in-work benefits – can have a huge impact on families, particularly when they live to a tight budget."

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The charity recently moved to a new base at Leegomery Community Centre – it holds and open day on Saturday – and also retains a presence at the Park Lane Centre in Woodside.

It also has collection points at shops across the area, including the Morrisons branches at Wellington and Lawley, Tesco at Wrekin Retail Park, and Sainsbury's at Forge Retail Park.

Liz Bird has been involved with Bridgnorth Food Bank for four years. She too has noticed a spike in the number of people seeking the help the the service over the past year.

She expect this to increase when Universal Credit comes into force in February next year.

"Our numbers have gone up since October last year," she says.

"We have gone from about five to eight clients a week, up to 25, we average about 15 a week.

"That is in just two hours. We are open only for two hours on a Monday, the rest of the week we are delivering emergency food parcels, and this is on top of that.

"We have been told to get ready for when Universal Credit comes in February, it's going to be really difficult then.

"We have been told people will be going a minimum of six weeks with no money, and it could take longer. Without any money whatsoever, people are going to get into a real panic."

The online survey of 2,048 adults, carried out for the charity by pollster ComRes, found that one in 50 adults – almost a million people – had used a food bank, while one in 25 had gone without meals so their children or others could eat.

One in eight said fears about being able to afford enough food for themselves or their families had caused anxiety.

Younger people were more worried about finances and more likely to have missed meals than the over-65s, the survey found.

Mrs Williams says poverty in areas like Shropshire very often goes unnoticed.

"In Shrewsbury, the poverty is very well hidden," she says.

"On the surface it's a very affluent town, but there are pockets of poverty that you don't see."

She says issues such as poor transport and a shortage of jobs in the more remote areas can can be a major factor.

"Transport is a massive issue, it can be very expensive," she says.

"One chap was walking 90 miles a week to go to his job, and to come to us, because he couldn't afford his transport."

She believes that people used to excellent transport links in major cities sometimes fail to appreciate the problems faced by the poor in rural communities.

"In the cities, the transport links are amazing, but in the rural areas its not.

"In the rural areas there will be a number of jobs people can't take because the start times are very early, and there is no public transport around at that time."

She says difficulties with the benefits system was the biggest reason for people coming to food banks.

"It might be that someone's benefits have been stopped, or they are just going on to benefits and are having problems," Mrs Williams says.

"We are coming across people who are in work, living week by week, and then they get an unexpected bill. It may be that their car breaks down, and if they can't use their car they can't get to work."

She says there are also many misconceptions about the sort of people who use food banks.

"For example, people tend to think that it is single parents who use food banks in the main, when in actual fact the biggest users are single men, followed by families," says Mrs Williams.

"Also, people think you can just use food banks willy-nilly, whereas everybody has to be referred to us, and we interview them.

"We don't just give them the food and send them on their way, we look at why they have been having problems and what can be done to help them."

She is keen to emphasise that Food Bank Plus does more than simply give people food, but also offers help with money management and finding employment.

The charity works closely with Shropshire Council, she adds.

Mr Hackwood says churches cannot address the issue alone.

"Church Urban Fund is working hard alongside other charities, churches, faith groups and community organisations to support those affected by food poverty, isolation and financial difficulties. But we cannot solve this problem alone," he says.

"We are calling on all those with the power to make a difference to play an active role in resolving this urgent issue."

The Rt Rev Tim Thornton, a trustee of the Feeding Britain charity, says the survey confirms how churches are responding to a widespread and pressing needs.

"Food poverty extends far beyond food bank use alone," he adds.

"Urgent and concerted action is needed across government, the private sector, civil society and statutory agencies, in order to tackle this problem."

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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