Wednesday, 25 November 2015

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800 regularly having to use north Cumbrian food banks

North Cumbria is witnessing a dramatic surge in the number of people too poor to pay for food, with more than 800 regularly taking food handouts every month.

Food bank photo
Mark Sellers from the Salvation Army

Some of those who are involved in running food banks in east and west Cumbria are blaming the Government’s benefits squeeze.

Figures obtained by the News & Star reveal for the first time the scale of the poverty which is leaving some people so desperate that they can no longer afford to buy food.

Food banks provide short term food support to families and individuals identified by care professionals who are known to be in crisis.

In Carlisle, food banks run by the Salvation Army, local churches, and another charity for young adults are now feeding 255 people every month.

In west Cumbria alone, food banks are feeding an average of 550 a month.

Virtually all the organisations involved say they have seen a surge in demand since the Government’s tougher new benefits regime came into force in April.

The issue hit the headlines this month when Lord Freud, a Work and Pensions minister, insisted that the recent sharp increase in people resorting to food handouts to feed their families was not linked to benefits sanctions and delays.

Captain Mark Sellers, from the Carlisle branch of the Salvation Army, said: “This time last year, we were doing ten food parcels a week, possibly as many as 15. Now, we’re typically doing more than 50 a week.

“The ending of crisis loans has had a big impact. People are being hit by benefits sanctions and delays when they change benefits.

“Some are being left without any income at all for weeks.

“Most coming to our foodbank are single people in their 20s and 30s, but we also see families and some pensioners.

“The idea of benefits ‘scroungers’ sitting at home living a [luxury] lifestyle is a myth. There’s hardly anyone living like that.”

Carlisle Key, a charity helping 16-25-year-olds, is helping to feed around 60 people a month, while St James Church in Denton Holme feeds around 10 a month, and Elim Community Church hands out around 45 food parcels.

That church’s senior minister, the Rev Alan Meyer, said:“It’s increased since April. People have their benefits stopped and it can take four weeks to sort out. It has certainly got worse.”

At the North Lakes Foodbank, Jessie Hendry reported a staggering 85 per cent rise in demand for food parcels in a year at its distribution centres in Wigton, Cockermouth, Whitehaven, Maryport and Wigton.

She said: “We must have been averaging at around 400 food parcels a month but over the last three months it’s gone up to 550 a month. We’re getting through two tons of food every month.

“I don’t think we can sustain an 85 per cent increase but they are changing over to Universal Credit [a new benefit] in October and it will throw a lot of people into crisis.”

She said demand has probably been affected by factors such as the ‘bedroom tax’ and scrapping crisis loans.

Penrith too has seen a rise in demand for free food. The Salvation Army’s Lieutenant Stuart McPhee, of the Hunter Lane foodbank, said: “We were doing three or four a week but now we’re doing ten a week.”

Willie Whalen, who represents Castle ward on Carlisle City Council, said the welfare benefits system was now “falling apart.”

He added: “I get people coming to my door for food because they’ve got nothing.”

The DWP insists there is a ‘safety net’ provided by government but welcomed the contribution of organisations such as food banks.


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