Picture: Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Foodbank use is rising in Wandsworth. Low-paid, unstable jobs and high housing costs mean more and more families can’t put food on the table. And sometimes things happen that threaten to pull us under, like losing a job, coping with a disability, or leaving our home to get out of an abusive relationship.
Last year more than 1200 individual households – including 1000 children – were referred to Wandsworth Foodbank for emergency food and support, including by Wandsworth Council teams (one of our top three referrers), local schools, GPs and mental health services, and voluntary sector agencies such as Citizens Advice and Age UK.
Sadly, we’re now seeing an increase in foodbank use for the sixth year running. Universal Credit is rolling out across the Borough, and we know from neighbouring boroughs and from research from the National Audit Office that foodbank use increases in areas of Universal Credit full service.
We are so glad to help each family referred to us, but we don’t think that it’s right that anyone in Wandsworth should need a foodbank to meet their basic needs.
This Thursday 27 September, councillors at Wandsworth Council’s Finance Committee will vote on whether to put in place two policies which we believe would help more local residents stay afloat in time of crisis – and would mean less people, not more, needing emergency foodbank help in the future:
- Wandsworth Council to broaden its local welfare assistance scheme’s eligibility criteria, so more people in crisis can access Sainsbury’s food vouchers and gas and electricity grants – including people who are waiting for first payment of benefits like Universal Credit and disability benefits, who are currently ineligible for the scheme.
- When Wandsworth Council places homeless households in temporary accommodation outside of borough because of a shortage of local housing (as far away as Deptford, Croydon or Crawley), the Council should cover the resulting extra travel costs. The Council currently expects homeless people to cover these extra costs out of their own already low income. Too often these extra travel costs are restricting families’ ability to afford the food they need, as they accompany children back to school or attend medical or Jobcentre Plus appointments in Wandsworth Borough.
We’re really grateful to Councillor Dikerdem of Queenstown Ward, for getting these issues (raised in our annual research) on the Finance Committee’s agenda in June.
And we’re really pleased that the first policy ask – broadening who is eligible for crisis help – is being recommended for Councillors to adopt at Thursday’s Finance Committee. We hope that Councillors from every party will vote in favour, so that more local residents are protected in times of crisis. We also hope and ask that they will protect the crisis scheme’s budget – and increase it if necessary to ensure all local residents in crisis can be helped.
Sadly, regarding travel costs for homeless residents, the Committee paper’s current recommendation (p96-) is that it would be too expensive for the Council to cover extra travel costs incurred when it places households out of borough – and so Councillors are being guided on Thursday to agree not to provide any extra financial help to the more than 700 homeless households they have currently placed out of borough.
We wrote last week to Councillor Melanie Hampton (who chairs the Committee) and all her committee colleagues to ask them to urgently reconsider this position. We’ve suggested that as it’s the Council’s decision to place homeless households out of Borough because it can’t secure accommodation nearer, is it not also the Council’s responsibility to alleviate the financial constraints – extra travel costs – this decision places on homeless families?
To us, it’s not fair that homeless families risk being pushed into poverty and foodbank use by extra travel costs incurred through no choice or fault of their own.
If on Thursday councillors choose to broaden the local welfare assistance scheme criteria but not cover extra travel costs of homeless households, they risk giving with one hand and taking with the other. For instance, I can see situations where homeless families might be applying for crisis help from the council, because they’ve had to spend their food budget on essential travel back to the borough – which isn’t the best solution for anyone.
This Thursday evening, I and some of my foodbank volunteer and local voluntary sector colleagues will be in the public gallery in room 123 at the Town Hall at 7.30pm, when the Finance Committee will vote on these two important measures.
You would be so welcome to join us and advocate by your presence for the Council to act on our shared values of compassion and justice, and to help keep families’ heads above water in times of trouble. Alternatively, you can email Councillor Hampton and her colleagues directly if you want to.
Poverty and hunger is not inevitable. We’re a society that believes in justice and compassion, and in protecting each other from harm. Good policies built on justice and compassion can be anchors in times of crisis – helping us stay afloat and get back on an even keel. That’s what we hope, pray and work towards for the local people we help.