No two people at a food bank are the same – but there’s always one similarity

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A blog post by
Bethany Biggar
Operations Manager at the Edinburgh Food Project 


We opened our doors at the Edinburgh Food Project six years ago and since then, we have seen the number of emergency food parcels handed out to people in crisis drastically increase. Much like the Trussell Trust’s figures, each year is worse than the last.

From families with children to people with disabilities, more and more people across Scotland are being forced into needless poverty through no fault of their own.

Our benefits system should be caring, compassionate and supportive, offering people that much-needed hand up out of tough times. But currently, the very system that should offer any of us financial support when we need it most, is allowing people to fall through the cracks.

One of the common things we’re seeing lately is people being referred to us while waiting five-weeks wait for Universal Credit. As a food bank manager, it never fails to amaze me when I explain to people that anyone applying for Universal Credit has to wait at least five weeks for their first payment. The most common reaction is ‘how can anyone survive without any money for that long?’


Dave* needed our food bank while waiting for his first Universal Credit payment to come through. He’d been working in restaurant kitchens for the last 25 years but problems with his knee were leaving him struggling to walk, so he was signed off work by a doctor and had to turn to Universal Credit for support. Although he followed the government’s advice and took out an ‘advance payment’ to bridge the wait, the money had to be paid immediately towards his rent to avoid eviction, leaving him without enough funds for anything else.

Situations like this are entirely preventable.

Like Dave, many other people have had to take out an advance payment from the Government to cope with the wait on Universal Credit but this is a loan. And like any loan, it has to be paid back, often at rates which people with such little money coming in can’t afford. Advance payments aren’t the solution – they’re a sticking plaster at best.

No two people who walk through the door of a food bank are the same. People could be working or on benefits for a range of reasons. But there’s always one similarity: the desperation of people trapped in poverty, left with no options because the cost of living has moved so far beyond what their benefits, minimum wage and zero-hours contracts can cover.

And the five-week wait has only exacerbated this further.

We try our hardest to signpost people to long-term support with other agencies but we need a minimum wage that covers the essentials and a workforce that is reliable and secure.

If the department’s latest PR campaign is to try and encourage people to claim Universal Credit then they aren’t going about it in the right way. Too much damage has been done in recent years to our welfare system and this nine-week campaign in the Metro isn’t going to fix the things we need our Government to fix.

We’re firefighting increasing levels of poverty at our food bank, but we can’t continue to pick up the pieces. The time to end the five-week wait for Universal Credit is now.

*name changed


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Universal Credit Uncovered? A challenge to the Govt to keep listening

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A blog post by
Natalie Williams
Head of Policy & Communications at Jubilee+ and volunteer at Hastings Foodbank 


While last week’s news has now been overshadowed by the announcement by Prime Minister Theresa May that she will step down, there is a lot that has happened that is important and mustn’t be missed or lost.

For example, a report issued by Human Rights Watch last Monday accusing the UK government of failing in its international duty under human rights law to ensure that people have enough to eat. Furthermore, it specifically blames the government for pursuing “cruel and harmful policies”.

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Universal Credit’s failings can’t be glossed over with ad campaign

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A blog post by
Tom Say
Campaigns Manager

This week the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) launched “Universal Credit Uncovered”, newspaper advertorials to “myth-bust common inaccuracies” about the Government’s new benefits system.

The nine-week campaign kicks off with a front and back page advert in the Metro newspaper and a four-page feature inside, and purposefully does not feature any DWP branding.

At the same time Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty, has published his final report on poverty in Britain. We think of ourselves as a nation built on justice and compassion.

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Caught between a rock and a hard place: why advance payments are not the solution to the five week wait

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A blog post by
Abby Jitendra
Policy & Research Manager


Unaffordable DWP loans are not the answer to the five week wait

Would you be able to go five weeks without any money?

When you apply for Universal Credit, that’s the minimum amount of time you have to wait for your first payment.

We put out our year-end food bank figures last week showing that a record 1.6 million food parcels had been given out by our network last year, a 19% increase on the year before. Universal Credit now accounts for half of all referrals to food banks due to benefits delays, and waiting for Universal Credit is a growing trigger forcing people to food banks.

While you wait, you can apply for an ‘advance payment’ – that’s a loan from the Government to see you through that five week period. Once your Universal Credit payments start, you pay that loan back automatically through deductions from your monthly payments.

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Stem the rising tide in food bank referrals – end the five week wait

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A blog post by
Ellie Thompson
Policy & Research Co-ordinator

The benefits system was designed to act as a safety net, providing support for any of us if we need it. But the Government’s new welfare reform, Universal Credit, pulls people into poverty, rather than helping them out of it.

In areas where Universal Credit has gone live for a year or more, food banks have seen a 52% average increase in food bank use compared to 13% in areas that have not. Increasingly we are seeing Universal Credit payment delays as a key driver of food bank referrals. Even Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, acknowledges that the delay in Universal Credit payments has led to a rise in referrals to food banks.

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Next week the Chancellor has the opportunity to reduce food bank use – will he take it?

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A blog post by
Abby Jitendra
Policy & Research Manager

Last year, the Prime Minister told the nation that austerity was over. But food banks, and the growing number of people who need them, will need convincing.

So far, the Government’s attempts at protecting people in poverty have been piecemeal. Rather than bold action to end austerity, the last Budget made some cash available for some very low paid working households on Universal Credit, but still left millions worse off.

This support won’t go far enough to reduce the record demand food banks have seen – our network gave out 1.3 million three-day parcels, a 13% increase in need, in the last financial year.

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MPs from all sides spoke up on the five week wait for Universal Credit – will the Govt now act?

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A blog post by
Tom Say
Campaigns Manager

Last week, MPs debated how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spends our money, ahead of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement on 13 March. In just a few days, over a thousand #5WeeksTooLong campaigners emailed their MP asking them to speak up on the five week wait for Universal Credit.

MPs from across the political spectrum did just that and there were some glimmers of hope in the government minister’s response. It was a wide ranging debate but reading through the speeches of the MPs that spoke I noticed three key themes around the five week wait:

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Five weeks is too long to wait for Universal Credit – join the campaign

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A blog post by
Tom Say
Campaigns Manager

We’re a country that prides itself on making sure proper support is in place for each other when help is most needed – that’s why we created our fire service, our health service, and our benefits system.

But Universal Credit – our new benefits system – isn’t the poverty-fighting reform that was promised.

In 2018, our research showed a 52% average increase in food bank use in areas that have had Universal Credit for at least 12 months compared to 13% in areas that have not.

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What do the government’s plans for Universal Credit actually mean?

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A blog post by
Garry Lemon
Director of Policy, External Affairs & Research

This month, the Department for Work & Pensions provided more information about the changes they’re making to the next stage of Universal Credit. But what do these plans actually mean, and will they make a difference to people teetering on the edge?

Until now, only people making a new application have needed to apply for Universal Credit. The next stage, ‘managed migration’, is to move people still receiving help from the old benefits system onto the new one.

Universal Credit should be fighting poverty, not forcing people to food banks. But when we first saw the initial plans for this next stage last summer, we were worried that they would result in many more people needing food banks.

The government expected 3 million people to make a brand new claim for Universal Credit after getting a letter telling them to apply. The plans didn’t specify what support would be available, or if there would be any help for people who needed it (you can read more here).

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A big festive thank you

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This is a guest blog post by our partner Asda.

This Christmas, we’re saying a big festive thank you to everyone helping to deliver our £20m Asda Fight Hunger Create Change campaign. That’s all the unsung heroes – the volunteers, our colleagues and our customers – who share our vision that no-one in this country should go hungry.

People like Christine Bromley, who volunteers at FareShare’s East Midlands warehouse four days a week between 8.30am and 5.30pm.

Read about Christine and some of our other volunteers

Christine, who’s 67 and has two children and four grandchildren, said: “I’ve lived and worked in Leicester all of my life, so it means a lot to me to be able to help people from all walks of life in the city.

“I know there are lots of people in the city that need help – it’s the same in any big city.

“I used to work as a secretary, but in 2015 the company I worked at went under. I decided I wanted to become a volunteer and now I spend four days a week at the warehouse, working on average eight hours a day.

“I just wanted to help people, and also stop food waste. Good food being thrown away just shouldn’t be happening so I really wanted to do something to help.

“I used to go out with the drivers and see the people we help for myself – foodbanks, hostels, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, schools – and it was a real eye-opener. You appreciate how fortunate you are. I feel like I’m doing a good deed by helping all these people who are in need.”

“I really enjoy it. My family think the fact I volunteer here is brilliant, they’re all for it too.”

“When I worked as a secretary I felt like I was just a number, and it was all about profits only. This is completely different, it’s not for profit and is a much more positive and friendly environment.”

Asda’s Fight Hunger Create Change campaign has funded a new warehouse for FareShare East Midlands, meaning they can provide even more food to those in need.

Christine said: “Asda’s support means a lot to me, and it means a lot to everybody at FareShare. Asda being involved really highlights the work we do and the work FareShare does, so people find out about us, know what we’re about and how we help people.”

“The new warehouse is a lot better, we’ve got much more room and more space for chilled products, we used to be tripping over each other in the old warehouse.”

“I load food on to the vans, book food in and tidy up – anything that needs to be done really. There’s always a lot to do, the days fly by.”

“It’s a very physical role but I enjoy that side of it too – I used to really dislike sitting at a desk all day!”

So here’s a big festive thank you to Christine, for everything that you do!

This Christmas, we’re saying a big festive thank you to everyone helping to deliver our £20m Asda Fight Hunger Create Change campaign. That’s all the unsung heroes – the volunteers, our colleagues and our customers – who share our vision that no-one in this country should go hungry.

People like Liz, the Community Champion at our Warrington store. She’s been working with a local group to provide fresh food for people in the local community in need.

It all started when Ames, a local volunteer, rang the store and asked what Asda did with its food waste and whether we could donate it to her project.

“Her idea was to put community fridges in various community centres,” said Liz. “Local supermarkets could donate food, and members of the public could access the fridge and take fresh food in times of need.”

“Ames at this point didn’t have a fridge, so I offered her space in store to bag pack and raise money for the first fridge.”

With the first fridge in place, Liz supported Ames to access food distributed through the FareShare network and the three Asda stores in Warrington began to donate food each month. Called the Hapi Hub project, there are now four of these community fridges in the area.

Liz said: “Ames has also set up a community lunch club, and with our support ran the first one using produce donated to make a fantastic two-course meal, open to everyone, for only £3.”

Liz helped raise money on the day and the Asda Foundation supported with a top up too.

“Three sessions later and Ames is over the moon to be in profit for Hapi Hub, which will enable the next step of the journey – cooking lessons for kids starting in January!”

So here’s a big festive thank you to Liz, and to Ames, for everything that you do!

This Christmas, we’re saying a big festive thank you to everyone helping to deliver our £20m Asda Fight Hunger Create Change campaign. That’s all the unsung heroes – the volunteers, our colleagues and our customers – who share our vision that no-one in this country should go hungry.

People like the Community Champion at Asda Middlesbrough, Jenny Barnett. Taking inspiration from our Fight Hunger Create Change campaign, Jenny contacted Redcar foodbank earlier this year to see if they needed help and has proved “a lifesaver” for them, setting up a permanent collection point in the store and volunteering with them every Wednesday.

The foodbank say they would have really struggled to stay afloat without Jenny and Asda’s help.

Foodbank manager Helen Hedges said: “The collection point has been a godsend to us, a real lifesaver, because sadly we’re getting more clients than ever. South Bank is quite a needy area.

“Sometimes we get half a ton of donations each month from Asda which has kept us afloat, particularly in the summer when we struggle for donations.”

“It’s brilliant having Jenny and Asda on board, the whole relationship works really well. She’s helped us set up awareness days in the store too which is great.”

“Jenny’s fantastic, particularly with the children who come in with clients.”

Jenny said: “With the Fight Hunger campaign I wanted the store to have a strong link to a local foodbank, so I contacted the one at Redcar.”

“I set up a permanent collection point and wanted to offer my services in person too. After my first shift there they said ‘please come back next week!’ so I go every Wednesday.”

“I have a great relationship with them, they’re absolutely brilliant – they’re like my best friends.

“When I’m there I help out in the cafe serving free hot meals to guests, wash up, make up food parcels, meet and greet the guests and play with their children while they’re getting support – anything they need.”

So here’s a big festive thank you to Jenny, and to Helen, for everything that you do!

This Christmas, we’re saying a big festive thank you to everyone helping to deliver our £20m Asda Fight Hunger Create Change campaign. That’s all the unsung heroes – the volunteers, our colleagues and our customers – who share our vision that no-one in this country should go hungry.

People like Jackie Beeley, who set up the Gateshead Foodbank with a group of church friends six years ago, when they discovered Gateshead did not have a foodbank.

Asda Gateshead’s community champion Lynn Ivison has helped them from their inception, and crucially helped them secure a permanent donation point in the store. This began six months ago and has made a huge difference to them.

Jackie said: “We set the foodbank up six years ago and it’s run totally by volunteers.”

“A few of us went to a local church concert and saw a sign for Durham Foodbank. We wondered if there was a Gateshead Foodbank and found out there wasn’t, so we thought it would be a good idea to set one up.”

“We gradually got volunteers and referral agencies on board and it went from there.”

“My working background is in social care and project management, so I use those skills to manage the foodbank.”

Jackie says that she has been really grateful for Lynn’s support.

“Lynn’s always been around to help us during the six years, and we’ve built up a great relationship with her” she said. “She also helped us get a £1,000 Asda Foundation for Christmas hampers to give out last year.”

“We hold awareness days in the store, and six months ago we got a permanent collection point in the store which has really taken off. Before that, they could only donate on our awareness days in the store.”

“Customers can now put food in whenever they want, and we go along every week to collect the donations. This is vital, we feed around 125 people a week, and we now have a regular supply of food which allows us to supply food to more people.”

So here’s a big festive thank you to Jackie, and to Lynn, for everything that you do!

This Christmas, we’re saying a big festive thank you to everyone helping to deliver our £20m Asda Fight Hunger Create Change campaign. That’s all the unsung heroes – the volunteers, our colleagues and our customers – who share our vision that no-one in this country should go hungry.

People like the fantastic team at FareShare’s London depot, who ensure essential food supplies are delivered to the charities and foodbanks helping people in need in the capital is expanding thanks to the Asda Fight Hunger Create Change campaign.

Derek Blunden is one of the volunteer drivers who distributes food for FareShare. He wanted to give something back to the community after selling his printing business following a cancer diagnosis.

Derek said: “I was going to work until I was 70, but I got diagnosed with prostate cancer about five years ago. About two years ago I fell asleep at work, which was due to the side effects of the treatment. I thought, ‘What am I doing, I’m 67 – I’m going to jack this in and give something back to the community.”

“I wanted to volunteer with the NHS but signing up with them would have taken several months, so I went along to a local volunteering centre. They suggested FareShare, and it’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“I distribute food parcels to all sorts of people – on a typical day I could be visiting a foodbank, a community centre hosting a meal for elderly people and a hostel for homeless people – and they’re all extremely grateful. That’s one of the best things about doing the driving job – you see the end product, and you’re the person they thank, even though all I do is deliver the food!”

We’re investing £20 million over the next three years to help FareShare and The Trussell Trust – and at FareShare’s London depot our funding has paid for a delivery driver and a charities coordinator to join full time.”

FareShare’s London development manager Rachel Ledwith says this will be a tremendous help.

She said: “Asda’s support is making a huge difference. This funding means we can expand our reach further across the city, reaching those communities in the Greater London boroughs where we are seeing an increasing need for our services.”

“Without drivers we have no way of delivering the food. Our volunteers are brilliant and keep our operation moving, but with an employed driver we have a guarantee that deliveries will happen on the days they work – it makes our operation and support much more sustainable.”

“FareShare’s mission is to access and redistribute the estimated 270,000 tonnes of food which goes to waste in the UK each year, and redistribute it to those in need. Asda’s funding is enabling us to do that – affording us the opportunity to invest in our resource to over the next three years, feed thousands more vulnerable people across London and the UK each week.”

So here’s a big festive thank you to Jeff, Rachel and all the team at FareShare London for everything that you do!

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