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Learning to ‘smile with your eyes’ through the pandemic

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By Kiaran Black, volunteer at NW Glasgow Foodbank 

 

Having previously volunteered at a food bank, Kiaran from Glasgow had no idea what was in store when she signed to volunteer at her local food bank in Autumn 2019, just a few months before the pandemic struck. 

“I had a break from volunteering but continued to donate food until in 2019 when I decided to sign up to be a volunteer at the Trussell Trust NW Glasgow Foodbank. I have personal experience of being on benefits and wanted to give back whatever I could to help others. It is ridiculous that in this day and age, in a G7 country, that there are people living in our community that do not have enough money to eat and feed their children.”  

 

“Changes in life and situations just happens, and they can happen to anyone.” 

 

The impact of lockdown  

In April, Scotland went into lockdown and the reality of the pandemic was slowly becoming apparent. “It felt like everything was turning on its head at the start of the pandemic,” said Kiaran, who currently volunteers at the food bank every Friday. “There were lots of new volunteers as others who were a bit older and needed to isolate. Volunteers, like myself, were coming in for double shifts to help out, we were receiving huge quantities of food donated by the public and supermarkets, while at the same time so many people were coming to us for help and food.” 

 

Learning to smile with your eyes 

Kiaran started to notice that keeping up the interaction with people was so much more difficult due to the social distancing rules. “We often had people queuing up in the rain before they were able to come in one door and then out of another door to collect their parcel. Pre-Covid, we would have offered people a cup of tea and a toastie but that became impossible.”  

 

“Wearing a mask, I try to smile through my eyes at people to bring whatever small amount of joy and normality I can, at a time when they are feeling so desperate and often alone.” 

  

Kiaran is passionate about her involvement as a volunteer, “I work from home on my own and so often don’t speak to anyone all day. I never experienced being a team player and didn’t think I would be any good at it, but I really love it!” 

“Since I have started volunteering every week, I am much less introverted and love chatting to all the other volunteers. It has made me much stronger, not just physically from lifting boxes but also emotionally. My skills at organising have improved, too, and when I arrive, I can see what needs to be done and just get on with it.” 

 

“Volunteering has taught me so much; I’ve learnt not to judge – life happens and for whatever reason people have no money for food. It can happen to anyone, and it breaks my heart and I only wish food banks didn’t exist, but they do and in times of emergency we are an essential support.” 

 

If you’ve been inspired hearing about Kiaran’s experiences of volunteering, why not check out our volunteering page and get involved? 

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Dignity through language

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By Janet Homan, volunteer 

The food banks in the Trussell Trust Network work hard to ensure that their services are accessible to everyone in their community. Language should never be a barrier to receiving support when it is needed. Over the summer, a group of volunteers got together to improve the number of resources available to people for whom English isn’t their native language. 

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Eight years of support – Southend Foodbank

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Natasha Copus Southend Foodbank Project Manager

Southend Foodbank first opened its doors on 1 November 2013. As the food bank prepares for its eighth anniversary, we spoke to Natasha Copus who joined as Project Manager four years ago.  

The food bank has eight distribution centres and a warehouse serving the seaside community in Essex. Due to the pandemic, a couple of the sites have temporarily closed, but there is always one open from Monday to Saturday to welcome guests.  

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Spotlight on the vital contribution of volunteers in the Foodbank Network

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By Miranda Beebe, Head of Volunteer Management 

Food banks are truly remarkable at connecting people with a passion to serve others – to come together and challenge injustice across the length and breadth of the UK. Every day in the network, we know thousands of volunteers turn up to stand alongside people experiencing crisis and show them solidarity and friendship.  

Today, we want to put the spotlight on Worcester Foodbank, who we noticed had logged 5,500 hours amongst 87 volunteers since February, when they first started using the volunteer management system, Assemble. In reality, the number is far higher as the 5,500 doesn’t account for additional hours for collections, deliveries and staying late after shifts. 

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Party conference and the Universal Credit cut: The Chancellor would do well to listen to his own party members ​

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By Sumi Rabindrakumar, Head of Policy & Research

Party conferences are usually full of slogans; at the Trussell Trust, we try to push political parties to put some meaning behind them. This year, at Labour and Conservative party conferences, we discussed how we can end the need for food banks, drawing on frontline experience from experts in our network, lessons from the pandemic, and insight across levels of government. After another record number of emergency food parcels provided across the UK (a shocking 2.5 million in our network), we urgently need action.  

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“We are one step away from food banks and working consistently to keep our heads above the rising tide.”

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By Alex, who will be hit by the £20 cut to Universal Credit if the Government goes ahead with their plans 

The numbers around the impact of the planned cut to Universal Credit are, by now, more familiar; 1.2 million people could be forced to skip meals, 1.3 million people could struggle to heat their homes this winter and 900,000 people tell us they’re very likely not to have enough money to travel to work or make essential trips like medical appointments. But behind these stats are the people who live in our communities, who will feel the devastating impact of the cut. 

Alex and his wife applied for Universal Credit when his job came to a complete standstill during the pandemic and his wife’s mental health deteriorated. Since then, they have been struggling to stay afloat and have skipped meals to be able to feed their son. 

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The public wants us to keep the Universal Credit lifeline: the Prime Minister and the Chancellor should listen

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By Sumi Rabindrakumar, Head of Policy and Research

Over a million people fear they will be forced to skip meals and switch off their heating this winter if the UK government goes ahead with its plan to cut Universal Credit payments by £20 a week next month. 

That’s one of the many alarming figures coming from the Trussell Trust’s new findings based on YouGov polling. These findings are the latest in escalating concerns from all quarters – MPs across the political parties, national governments across the UK, doctors, frontline workers, and – of course – Universal Credit claimants. Wave after wave of letters, research, and lived experience all point to the same conclusion: the cut to Universal Credit will be a devastating blow for the millions of households struggling to make ends meet. 

Today’s new data lays bare the full impact of the impending cut. Faced with a cut of £20 a week, 1.2 million people (20%) claiming Universal Credit say they will very likely need to skip meals and 1.3 million (21%) say they will very likely be unable to afford to heat their homes this winter. Nearly a million (900,000, 15%) say they are very likely to need to use a food bank as a result of the cut. 

These worries are being felt by people across the UK, in all nations, and all regions. If the UK government is serious about its intention that ‘as far as possible everyone everywhere feels the benefits’ of recovery, No. 10 and No. 11 Downing Street should be worried too. 

It is worrying that constituents in regions targeted for the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda are especially likely to fear they will struggle to meet their basic needs. In the North East of England, for example, people are nearly twice as likely to fear they won’t be able to heat their homes this winter compared with the average UC claimant in the UK (30% vs. 21%). They are a third more likely than average to fear they will need to use a food bank (20% vs. 15%) and skip meals (28% vs 20%) if the cut goes ahead. 

It is worrying that a mere one in five people from today’s polling believe our social security system provides enough support to people with physical or mental health conditions, days after the government launches its health and disability green paper exploring “how the welfare system can better meet the needs of disabled people and people with health conditions”. 

It is worrying that – as the government attempts to set out a jobs-led recovery – the cut will mostly affect working people, and today’s poll shows nearly a million (900,000, 15%) people say they are very likely to not have enough money to travel to work or essential appointments by public transport if the cut goes ahead. 

As the record numbers of emergency food parcels provided by food banks in the Trussell Trust network and beyond show, families across the UK are already caught in impossible situations. Today’s polling shows that over three-quarters (77%) of current Universal Credit claimants are struggling to keep up with bills and credit commitments. Well over a million have cut back on food for at least a day (1.9 million, 32%) and gone without basic toiletries (1.4 million, 23%) because they couldn’t afford them in the last 30 days. Imposing the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since World War II risks pulling families with precarious finances further under. 

This isn’t right – and it doesn’t have to be like this. We do not need to inflict immediate hardship on people already struggling to stay afloat. We do not need to push more families through the doors of food banks. If we are to ‘build back better’, we all need the security and stability of a strong lifeline – because, as the pandemic has shown, life is full of things for which we cannot plan.  

The UK public knows this – today’s findings show that, even including the undecided, a majority supports making the increase permanent. People are twice as likely to support keeping the increase than oppose it. It is clear: our social security system must at the very least provide people on low incomes with enough money to cover the essentials in life – like food and heating. The UK government must keep the lifeline this October. 

We are four weeks away from Universal Credit being cut – we need your help now. Email your MP to support the #KeepTheLifeline campaign, and ask them to tell the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to keep the £20 increase to Universal Credit and extend it to people receiving ‘legacy’ benefits.

 

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Why writing to your MP can help us keep the lifeline  

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By Rory Weal, Policy and Public Affairs Manager

September is here, and as the kids go back to school and MPs return from their summer recess, the government has a big decision hurtling down the tracks: will they stick to their guns and cut Universal Credit by £20 a week this October, or keep this vital lifeline and keep people afloat? 

Food banks across the Trussell Trust network know just how vital the extra £20 on Universal Credit has been. It could be the difference between people being able to get by or cut back on vital essentials, like food, clothing and heating. Removing it risks plunging tens of thousands into destitution. That’s why the Trussell Trust is supporting the Keep the Lifeline campaign, and asking you to write to your MP. 

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Millions of people turn to food banks in latest evidence of food insecurity

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By Emily Spoor, Research Officer

New figures out today show that almost one in three people whose only income was through social security had been to a food bank in the previous year – these figures more than highlight that now is not the time to cut £20 a week from their income.  

This new evidence, collected between November 2020 and January 2021, showed that one in 12 (7%) people aged 16 and over in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had used a food bank in the previous year – representing almost three and a half million people.  

This new data from the Food and You survey shows that far too many people are being let down by the benefit system. Our social security system should protect people from being pulled into poverty and be strong enough to pull people out – but in reality the benefit system forces too many to go without essentials such as food. 

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The State of Hunger: Our housing crisis is driving people to food banks

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By Tom Weeks, Research Manager at the Trussell Trust

Today, as part of the State of Hunger blog series, we are exploring how issues with housing can drive people to food banks.

With over 95,000 households living in temporary accommodation at the end of March 2021, today’s English homelessness statistics highlight the scale of the housing emergency we are facing. Despite the eviction ban (in place until the end of May 2021), in the first three months of 2021 alone over 36,500 households presented to their local council and were found to be homeless.  

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