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As Universal Credit rolls out across the country, over the coming months we are checking in regularly with a foodbank in an area which is currently transitioning to UC to see if there is any noticeable impact on the number of families with children using their services. We are hearing the first-hand experiences of one of the foodbank’s members of staff.

Three days that carry us through

30 November 2018

Linda’s day started at 7.30 this morning. As well as managing several foodbanks in her local area, she’s responsible for her team’s social media. Twitter is proving a useful tool, Linda tells me.

“I pick up the hashtags to promote what we’re doing to get more food in, saying what we’re short of, asking if people can help us with food or funds.”

It’s been a busy few days on the collection front. Yesterday was another match day collection with the local football team. This was followed by a national three day food collection drive with a large supermarket chain.

As well as the much-needed food donations, it’s a chance to engage face to face with donors. The biggest question they have is whether the food is staying local.

“These three days have a huge impact,” Linda explains. “The food we get should take us to February or March next year.”

But with the roll out of Universal Credit hitting around Christmas time, and all the additional expenses that this time of year brings, there’s concern it won’t go far enough.

In December 2016 the foodbank gave out 144,677 food parcels nationwide. In December 2017 there was an increase of around 10%, giving out 159,388 parcels. 65,622 of these went to families with children. December 2018 is upon us, and Linda and her team are expecting a further increase in these figures.

Linda talks about the emotional stress of being hungry and cold, and the impact this has families, especially around Christmas.

“A mum came in yesterday for the first time. She was very nervous, but she was brought to tears by the fact she could have advent calendars for her children.”

“We get donations of presents too. The other day every chair in one of our centres was filled with presents. So, for example, grandparents who have custody were able to come and pick presents.”

The food available to each client varies depending on the size of the family. Linda’s organisation has worked with a nutritionist to design a three day crisis food parcel: three meals a day for three days.

In addition to this, extras are available such as washing up powder, toilet rolls and sanitary protection.

Clients come to the foodbank having been given a voucher from registered organisations. Anybody who works with vulnerable people can register to be a voucher holder including hostels, local councils and mental health charities.

The current policy places a limit of three vouchers per client within a six-month period. But Linda notes how the benefit system has changed since this policy was introduced, so there are times when more supported is needed.

“But we won’t support them unless they are getting support. We don’t want them to be dependent, we want them to engage with services.”

“Most people are up for that. But we have a reluctant few, and depending on the crisis, further down the line we have to turn them away after about five vouchers. Sometimes it can be harsh but we have to stop supporting them.”

It’s unusual for things to get that far. Linda’s team are there to help and there is focus on dignity and compassion. But it’s clear that foodbanks can’t be a permanent solution – they are the symptom of a larger underlying problem which, according to the statistics, is growing.

“People have five or six reasons around the crisis and it can be too much for that person. So we start slowly, and we try and do something with the biggest problem first.”

More blog posts from our series on Universal Credit

Previous post: 15 November 2018 – Heating or eating

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