Bill, in his early 60s, worked on a building site until a blister from new work boots led to an ulcerated leg and he was laid off in October last year. Soon afterwards he and his wife separated and he became homeless. He was referred to the Foodbank by Wandsworth Council.
“Working on a building site, you’re on your feet all day long. I was struggling to get about and the foreman said you basically can’t do the job. So that was it, I got laid off.
Nearly all building staff now are agency, it’s just hire and fire you as they want you, and get someone else in. You haven’t got a leg to stand on – literally in my case. No holiday pay, no sick pay, nothing.
So I tried to sign on, but they said no, because of your time [working abroad] you haven’t paid contribution for the right year, so I didn’t get absolutely no money until this February.
When the lady at the council said the foodbank, not being funny, but that’s a very humbling experience.
I feel a bit awkward coming here but everyone’s been very nice, very friendly, very kind. All the volunteers giving up their free time to help other people – it’s nice to see there’s nice people about.’
Matthew 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 unwell. 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 ongoing 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.It’s the stigma from society, from the media, of being categorised as a ‘worthless layabout’. It sounds stupid but when I eventually did go and sign on I used to walk past the job centre as if I was lost, and go back in there as if I was asking for directions. I used to hate it. I didn’t want to be there.
“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.
“I had to borrow money to pay bills – to try to pay some rent – and I got into debt, and I didn’t have anything in the cupboard. 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 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 eventually came through the doors and it’s the best thing I ever did in my life. The volunteers were so welcoming, so understanding. I wasn’t judged. 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 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.”
“The people at the foodbank were wonderful, they understood and saved us.”
Having always worked and never claimed benefits, Holly, 29, from Chichester was bringing up her four-year-old daughter, Phoebe alone. She was determined to give her the best possible start in life, but when Phoebe suddenly fell ill, Holly was forced to turn to a foodbank for help.
The council flat that Holly was living in was in a deprived area with drug dealing and dog fouling taking place in the corridor outside her door. Holly was adamant that her daughter should have a better environment to grow up in and was offered alternative accommodation near her parents but at double the cost. As well as borrowing money from her parents to meet the cost, Holly was working part time. At the same time, she had been selling second-hand clothes online and the shop she was working in noticed its success and offered her a space selling clothes in their shop.
Under normal circumstances, Holly could just about scrape by, but when her daughter became poorly and had to spend three weeks in hospital, she was forced to close the shop temporarily. When Phoebe recovered, they returned home to empty kitchen cupboards, bills racking up and no income to support them.
Holly felt unable to ask her family for help again and after discussions with the local Citizens Advice Bureau she was referred to the foodbank.
Holly said: “The people at the foodbank were wonderful, they understood and saved us.”
Although Holly’s situation is still precarious, knowing the foodbank is there in an emergency is a huge weight off her shoulders.
“Without the foodbank, I don’t think I would be here today.”
Having worked in the police force for six years, followed by 12-years in the Royal Military Police, Richard, 49, from New Milton, had always considered himself fit and healthy. However, this all changed when a chest infection quickly developed into a heart condition and he suffered from two major strokes followed by 19 mini strokes, leaving him unable to work.
Richard’s situation deteriorated further when he separated from his wife and moved out of their family home, where, unfortunately due to this change of address his Employment Support Allowance (ESA) was delayed. As a result of his serious heart condition Richard needs 35 tablets a day, but the cost of travelling to collect his prescriptions left him without enough money for food, and his local Citizens Advice Bureau referred him to the foodbank.
Although Richard admits he never expected to be in this situation, on arrival he was put at ease straight away. “The volunteers were fantastic, offering a chat and a shoulder to cry on. I suffer from depression as well and without the foodbank I don’t think I would be here today,” he said.
Richard looks forward to seeing his 10-year-old daughter every weekend but admits he has skipped meals on a few occasions so she can eat. He explains: “It’s a really bad situation that people have to decide whether they can feed themselves, feed their children or put the heating on. It’s a case of having to budget or having to go without.”
At the moment things are still tough for Richard, he’s on the waiting list for a heart transplant and will be on medication for the rest of his life, but he’s grateful that the foodbank is available if he ever needs some extra help.