Foodbank calls for stronger safety net, as new figures show 2,000 emergency food supplies distributed by Wandsworth Foodbank in six months
- More than 2,000 three-day emergency food supplies distributed to people in crisis in Wandsworth Borough in first half of financial year – up 18.5 per cent on same period in 2015. 643 of them were for children.
- Issues with benefits account for 40 per cent of all referrals
- Citizens Advice, childrens’ centre, primary school, GP surgery, Family Recovery Project and JobCentrePlus in top 6 referring agencies
- Real-life Daniel Blake tells his story: “The world just becomes a dark place, a really horrible place. I’ve stayed in bed for days, because you don’t get hungry in bed, when there’s nothing in the cupboards.”
Between April and September 2016, Wandsworth Foodbank distributed enough emergency food to feed 2092 people for three days. All were referred in crisis by one of more than 200 local referral agencies who identified that their client was without sufficient food, or money to buy food, in the week ahead.
Nationally, anti-poverty charity The Trussell Trust today reveals that foodbanks in its network (of which Wandsworth Foodbank is a part) distributed 519,342 three-day emergency food supplies between April to September 2016, compared to 506,369 during the same period last year.
Problems with benefits accounted for 4 in 10 people needing emergency food from Wandsworth Foodbank. These include:
- delays in payments, when expected money which people are entitled to is not paid on time, or delays occur in processing new claims
- benefit changes, where problems resulting from a change in people’s social security payment occur, for example people having their benefits stopped while they are reassessed
- benefit sanctions, where someone’s benefit payment is stopped from between 4 weeks to 3 years if they are considered to have failed to meet the rules of the benefits system (for instance, being late for one appointment at the JobCentrePlus, or not being able to prove they looked for enough jobs in one week).
Recent benefit changes hitting local Wandsworth residents hard include the fact that since April 2016, many households on a very low income who were previously exempt from Wandsworth Borough Council Tax now have to pay it at a rate of 30 per cent, further squeezing tight family budgets. Additionally, from Monday 7 November, the new lower cap on total benefits a household can receive came into force – affecting 19,000 households across London and representing a further loss of £3,000 per year for each household, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Low income as a referral reason increased by 35% compared to same period last year, to account for 29 per cent of all people referred, suggesting that a cocktail of high rent, low wages, insecure work (for instance, zero-hour contracts) and previous changes to benefits are hitting low income households hard.
Sickness as a referral reason accounted for 43 percent more people being referred to the foodbank than in the same period last year – which may be linked to difficulties guests and referral agencies highlight in accessing benefits like Employment Support Allowance promptly when they are unable to work due to ill-health.
Once referred, local people can exchange their foodbank voucher for emergency food and essential toiletries (eg loo roll, sanitary goods, soap) at any of Wandsworth Foodbank’s five centres, based in churches across the borough. They can also access specialist advice from the dedicated Foodbank Citizens Advice advisor to help resolve problems, for instance with benefits, as quickly as possible.
Real-life Daniel Blake tells his story
Behind the statistics are people like Matthew, who was recently referred to Wandsworth Foodbank by a job centre adviser after a life-threatening illness and emergency surgery meant he was unable to work.
A former Special Forces soldier, Matthew (not his real name) was working full-time as a self-employed carpenter and joiner before becoming ill; his story echoing that of the main character’s story in Ken Loach’s film, I, Daniel Blake. After a Work Capability Assessment, Matthew was told he was not ill enough to receive out-of-work sickness benefit, Employment Support Allowance, despite severe mobility problems and recently diagnosed PTSD. This had a knock-on effect on his Housing Benefit, payment of which stopped, and he began receiving notices of eviction.
“Until it happens to you, you don’t realise how bad life can be. I had to stop work. It was devastating, because the funds I’d put to one side, they were soon gone. I even sold my tools just to make ends meet. I was being threatened that I was going to lose my place. My world was just coming round my ears.
“I’ve paid my taxes since 1980, but it was still a pride thing for me to actually go and put my hand out and say I need help. The DWP can be very abrupt and you have to chase them, and you have to be a thorn in their side because otherwise you will be disregarded. You have to fight. But every time I seemed to turn a corner, there’d be a wall. It was so frustrating, worse than frustrating. The world just becomes a dark place, a really horrible place. I’ve stayed in bed for days, because you don’t get hungry in bed, when there’s nothing in the cupboards.
“I’d gone to sign on at the job centre and I asked if there was an emergency payment available for food, and they said ‘No’. I explained I had nothing, I literally had nothing, and they said ‘We can give you a food voucher. Go to a foodbank.’
“I thought how low can you go? I just wanted to curl up and the ground to open up and swallow me. I was told where the foodbank was and I had to walk, because I didn’t have any money at all. I must have stood outside the foodbank for a good twenty minutes watching people coming and going.
“I eventually came through the doors and it’s the best thing I ever did in my life. The volunteers were so welcoming, so understanding. It restored a lot of faith in me of seeing there was actually something in place for this situation, for me. I was going to go home and eat. I was given an appointment with the Foodbank Citizens Advice adviser, and she got on the phone to the DWP straight away and eventually everything got sorted out.
“People and the government and the DWP need to know the work that foodbanks do, and need to know the position that people are put in. People have to realise that foodbanks are here for a reason now, because of what’s happening; because of the situations people face through no choice of their own, like me.”
Dan Frith, Wandsworth Foodbank Manager says:
“While we are so pleased to be able to provide emergency support to local people in crisis, and will continue do so, we believe that no one in Wandsworth, or the UK, should face hunger. We’re so grateful to everyone locally who donates food and funds to the foodbank, to help their neighbours like Matthew put food on the table. But we continue to call on national and local government to do everything within their power to strengthen the safety net, so that when crisis hits, families do not go hungry. And we ask people across Wandsworth, if you agree with this, to speak to your local councillors and MPs and call on them to take action to end the scandal of hunger and food poverty.”
 Wandsworth Foodbank distributed 2092 three-day emergency food supplies in April-September 2016, compared with 1765 in the same period last year.
 See Notes to Editor for information on how data is measured
 Generously funded by City Bridge Trust