We're so grateful to each person who shares their story with us, so we can share it with you.
Meriam and her children were referred to us by a local primary school during the pandemic, after fleeing domestic violence in another country, and becoming destitute in ours.
As an asylum seeker, UK government policy prohibits Meriam from working or receiving benefit payments, and the family only recently started receiving asylum seeker support of £5 per person/per day for food, travel, clothing, shoes and any other essentials. She says:
‘There was a day I sent my children to school without breakfast – all the food was gone. I took my kids to the front desk and I was honest. The school said they will take care of it and they would ask the Foodbank to help us, and the Foodbank sent us food the next day for the whole family. So then the kids could have breakfast before and dinner after school and that helped a lot.
‘Then the Home Office suddenly moved us to [an asylum seeker hotel in another part of the city]. They didn’t have proper food there or ok food for the children’s allergies – even when I asked about allergies they refused. We found cockroaches in our food when we tried to eat it. So then we didn’t have any money, or any food to eat.
‘I was very upset, because my son and daughter would cry for food. My son would fall asleep crying and he would wake up and ask for food and there wouldn’t be any and he would cry again. I felt like my hands were tied, like I couldn’t do anything for my children. Those days were very tough days for me and my kids. But then the Foodbank came all the way to us and helped us again, and the children were able to eat, and it was such a big blessing.
‘A mum thinks very much when her kids are hungry and crying. And for me, moving country to be safe, and then coming here and the children have to suffer – sometimes a victim like me starts to think ‘Is it a good thing I’ve done to move to try and protect my children or not?’ You might even jeopardise your safety if you can’t meet your children’s basic needs.
‘The Foodbank has had a big impact in me and my kids’ lives. It was such a big difference that is hard to express. I was always helped by them when I didn’t know anyone in this country and I didn’t know what to do.
‘I have seen smiles return to my kids’ faces after we received help from Foodbank and for a mum, that’s the most precious thing in the world: seeing her kids safe, eating, happy and playing. Whenever I asked the Foodbank for something like toilet paper or sanitary products – about our specific needs – they took care of that. It made me feel like my voice is heard, that I’m valued as a human, and that someone is there to listen and help me and my children.’
*Her name has been changed to protect her identity
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. Soon afterwards he and his wife separated and he became homeless. He was referred to the Foodbank by Wandsworth Council. Bill says:
“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 referred to Wandsworth Foodbank by a job centre adviser after a life-threatening illness and emergency surgery meant he was unable to work – and then his disability benefits were wrongly stopped.
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 DWP health assessment, Matthew was told he was not ill enough to receive out-of-work sickness benefit despite severe ongoing mobility problems and recently diagnosed PTSD. This had a knock-on effect on his housing benefit which stopped, and he began receiving notices of eviction. Matthew says:
“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 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.”