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  • Charlotte White

Those who have the least are suffering the most

By Charlotte White, Earlsfield Foodbank

Delays, shortages, postponements, cancellations. All regular occurrences across the country, as different sectors and systems struggle to cope with another wave of Covid. And once again, we see that those who have the least are suffering the most.

At our food bank we’re increasingly worried about how delays and problems in the system are affecting our guests and preventing them getting the support they desperately need. Many are already struggling to cope with the £20 Universal Credit cut and rise in energy prices. And the latest Covid wave has only intensified these difficulties.

When we register a new guest, we always enquire about the reasons for food bank use, so that we can give more support than just food. For every guest, we want to find a route out of food bank use, whether that be solving benefit issues, finding employment opportunities or training and reducing debt and so on.

But for many, these routes are blocked, leaving guests trapped in their current circumstances and often penalised for a situation which they can’t control. The stories of guests attending this week’s session were no exception.

Cheryl applied for a fuel grant before Christmas. She has two children and is pregnant with third. Her Universal Credit has been cut and she’s really struggling to manage. She was told that she could only receive help with the fuel once she’d attended a “Financial Awareness” course. She duly signed up for one, yet this was cancelled and still hasn’t been rescheduled. What now? She is still left in lurch with eating vs heating now a daily dilemma.

Or Tony who suffers from various physical and mental health issues. He had a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) application interview at the beginning of December. He was told he would hear back within 10 days but is still waiting. He leaves a message. No-one rings back. He tried again yesterday whilst in the food bank queue (and yes, it was a long queue) and was put on hold. He waited 20 minutes and then his phone went dead. He doesn’t know when he’ll next have credit.

One of our new guests, Jocelyne, was extremely distressed when she registered. A change in her health circumstances mean that her benefits have changed. But there is a delay in payment whilst this change takes place. She cares for her husband and son, both disabled. Her energy bills have almost doubled in the past month, and she simply cannot afford to pay for food and heating. She tried to call the Council’s helpline for a Household Support Fund fuel grant. But the helpline wasn’t working, so residents can only apply online. Jocelyne is 62, doesn’t have a smart phone and has no access to the internet at home.

Most heart-breaking is the way that Jocelyne admonishes herself as she cries and explains the situation. “I’ve always managed before. We’ve struggled, but I’ve always got by. And now I can’t. I feel like I’m letting them all down”.

Jocelyne hasn’t let them down. The system has let them down. It needs to be fixed so that people don’t suffer like this. And at the very least the £20 Universal Credit payment needs to be restored so that people have a lifeline, a chance to get through these challenging times.

(All names changed)


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