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Food banks matter now more than ever – but we have the power to create change

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In the last few months, we’ve all been hit by something outside our control. As the coronavirus pandemic has swept in, its impact has been felt by all of us, in many different ways.

More and more of us are facing financial insecurity, a loss of control, an uncertainty over what our futures might look like.

But while we’re all being hit by the same storm, we’re not all in the same boat. For some, this sweeping lack of control is new and unsettling. For some, this will be a one-off occurrence from which they’ll recover. But for people living in poverty, this feeling isn’t new. It’s all too familiar.

Feeling trapped, facing limited options, and being let down by systems designed to provide support is the norm for millions of people every day.

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British Gas support is making a real difference in local communities

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In early April, Centrica and British Gas began working with the Trussell Trust to support food banks during the current coronavirus pandemic. As British Gas engineers and colleagues are currently only attending emergency and essential visits in these challenging times and a number of staff are on furlough, the company has encouraged its employees to volunteer with the Trussell Trust and offer support to food banks. You can find out more about the partnership here.

Since then, thousands of British Gas and Centrica employees have got involved and are making a real difference in their local communities by helping food banks deliver emergency supplies to people’s homes, collect and transport food donations, and sort food safely in food bank warehouses. Employees are also embracing this role at home, setting up home donation stations, buying donations for food banks when doing their own shopping, raising funds and spreading the word on social media about the work of the Trussell Trust.

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What we’re learning during the coronavirus outbreak

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In the past few weeks, a lot has changed. As the coronavirus outbreak develops, we’re all adjusting to new ways of working and living, and many of us are dealing with difficult and tragic situations. The pandemic has upended our lives and things are shifting day by day.

And yet, as we adjust to these changes, there are things we can learn from what is happening. There are things we can find comfort in. There are things we can draw hope from.

1. Our strength lies in our communities.

Across the world, communities have pulled together during this time of crisis to support others. From checking in on elderly neighbours to delivering shopping to someone in isolation, it has been inspiring to see communities working together.

The food banks in the Trussell Trust network were created by communities for communities and have always been run by local people for their local area. Now more than ever, their ability to continue to serve and support people in crisis is reliant on their local communities who have rallied to volunteer, donate, and advocate for food banks.

Though we may be physically distanced, people across the UK are working together to solve the challenges we’re facing and drawing strength from the connected communities we live in.

2. We are capable of incredible generosity.

While the news is dominated by stories of individuals stockpiling, food banks in the Trussell Trust network have witnessed nothing but generosity.

We have seen an amazing surge in support, allowing us to make sure that each and every food bank in our network receives the support they need. And thousands of you have generously volunteered your time to do what you can to help in your local area, with still more donating vital food supplies to keep food banks operational.

During this crisis, it is heart-warming to see that so many people are still so willing to give time, money, and food to support others.

3. We are resilient.

In the last few weeks, all of us have had to make changes, personally and professionally. Some of us might be working from home or furloughed. Some of us might be working more hours than ever in frontline services. Some of us might be adjusting to home-schooling or self-isolation.

But whatever adjustments are being asked of us, we’re facing up to them. The food banks in our network have faced huge changes to their ways of working, to how they obtain supplies, to what volunteers can do.

Their resilience and flexibility in the faces of such challenges is truly remarkable. Their dedication to doing whatever they can to support people in their communities, adjusting to shocks and changes quickly, shows us all what we’re capable of.

4. We can make a difference.

As individuals, we can all make a difference during the pandemic – whether it’s by volunteering or simply staying indoors. It may feel like we’re not doing enough but it really does all add up.

Without the support of the general public, the food banks in our network simply wouldn’t be able to continue to serve their communities. As the outbreak develops, it’s likely that more and more people will need to use food banks and without your support (whether it’s food, money, or time), people wouldn’t be able to access the services they so need.

Whether you’re supporting the Trussell Trust, your local food bank, or other charities, your actions have a real impact. Thank you!

 

If you want to help support food banks during the current outbreak and contribute to a future without the need for food banks, find out more about how to get involved here.

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Why language matters – especially during a pandemic

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As the coronavirus outbreak develops, we’ve all got lots to think about: from supporting elderly relatives or friends to looking after our own health, from financial concerns to restrictions on our daily movement. We’re adjusting to huge changes in our day-to-day lives as we work to deal with this ‘new normal’ and the way we talk about poverty and hunger is probably low on many people’s lists of priorities. But it shouldn’t be.  

The way we talk about things matters – even during a pandemic. Especially during a pandemic. The way we talk defines how we think about things and what we choose to do about them. As our news and timelines are dominated by statistics and analysis of the outbreak, it’s more important than ever that we think in new and innovative ways to meet the challenges we’re being presented with and pull together as a nation to react with compassion. 

It’s likely that more and more people will need the support of food banks as the outbreak progresses, especially those who aren’t eligible for sick pay or are in insecure work. More and more people will become locked in a daily struggle to make ends meet. 

More and more people will be at risk of being pulled into poverty. 

This isn’t right. As a society, we believe in justice and compassion, in helping others. During these unprecedented times, when many of us are feeling powerless and afraid, it is more important than ever that we don’t forget that behind the statistics are thousands and thousands of individuals and families who need support. And it is more important than ever that we see clearly what causes poverty and how we can solve it. Because this can be solved.  

By making sure that we talk about poverty in the right way, we can make sure that we address it in the right way. Poverty exists in this country and during this crisis many people are at risk of being pulled into instability.  

But poverty is a problem that can be solved: by redesigning our benefits system so that it works for anyone who needs its help; by making sure that everyone has enough money for the essentials; by creating a society without the need for food banks.  

During the current outbreak, it has been inspiring to see the outpouring of kindness, compassion, and community spirit that has made such an impact across the country. The pandemic shows the amazing resilience of our communities and the incredible things we can achieve together even in the most trying of circumstances.  

Poverty isn’t inevitable, and we all have a part to play in addressing it. And if we talk about it in the right way, focusing on the deeper structural issues driving it and the changes that could make a difference, we’re all able to see what steps we can take. This can change.  

If you want to help raise awareness and get involved, share this blog on social media and let your followers know what you think. 

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Coronavirus and food banks: your questions answered

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As the coronavirus outbreak develops, it can be difficult to know where to turn for support. We want to help you find the information you need and answer your questions so that you understand your options and what you can do.

If you have any questions we haven’t answered here, please let us know via email or social media so we can help you.

 

Q: What’s going on at food banks right now? Are they running out of donations? Are they closing?

Food banks are working hard to continue supporting their communities safely. Many have changed how they operate and are looking at new, innovative ways to distribute food to people in financial crisis safely during this time. We’re working closely with each and every food bank in our network to make sure that wherever possible they can continue to support people in crisis in their local communities.

As the pandemic unfolds in the UK, our main priority is ensuring the safety of everyone who comes to a food bank. It’s hard for us to say exactly how the outbreak will develop, and each food bank will be affected differently. Food banks are running low on certain items so we really encourage you to support your local food bank if you’re able to by donating supplies.

Some might be changing their opening hours or the way they operate and some have had to close their physical premises. You can find your local food bank’s website using our map www.trusselltrust.org/find-a-foodbank and see what’s happening in your area.

Q: Are supermarkets helping food banks?

Yes! Food banks in our network are receiving support from Morrisons, Tesco, Waitrose, and Asda. This support varies from supermarket to supermarket and area to area but includes food supply, financial assistance and more. Support might include alterations to purchasing restrictions, specific shopping slots, donation points in supermarkets, or direct financial donations. Visit our News page for more information.

Q: I’m self-isolating but need food. Can I get it delivered from a food bank?

If you can afford food but can’t get to the shops because you’re self-isolating, you should contact your local council or Citizens Advice for help.

If you’re unable to afford food, you should get in touch with your local food bank for help. They’ll be able to explain to you how to access emergency food in your area. Find yours here: www.trusselltrust.org/find-a-foodbank.

Q: All my local referral agencies have closed – what do I do?

Contact your local food bank for advice on what to do next if your local referral agency is closed or you can’t get in touch with them. Many referral agencies will have changed their ways of working in order to provide services safely during this time, and your local food bank will be aware of these changes and be able to help you get in touch with the right people. Find your local food bank here: www.trusselltrust.org/find-a-foodbank.

Q: How can I help food banks?

You can donate food, support us financially, volunteer, or support the Trussell Trust online to raise awareness of what needs to happen now. We’re doing everything we can to support the food banks in our network and continuing our work to create a future where food banks are no longer needed. Any support you can offer makes a real difference. Find out more about how you can help here: www.trusselltrust.org/coronavirus-food-banks/get-involved.

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Our NHS is there to support us during this health crisis – our benefits system must also be there for people as we face this economic crisis together

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A blog post by
Garry Lemon
Director of Policy & Research

 

This is not just a health crisis we face. It is also an economic one. The necessary measures we’re all taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus have caused an economic shock that, early signs show, has led to a steep increase in unemployment and drop in incomes.

In response, and to the government’s great credit, a series of measures have been brought in at significant speed and scale. The Coronavirus Jobs Retention scheme aims to keep companies running and people employed and paid. Universal Credit has been strengthened with more money in the standard rate, alongside an increase in the Local Housing Allowance.

National governments with devolved powers are also bringing in extra protection, most notably £45 million has been put into the Scottish Welfare Fund so that local councils can get money to those that need it most.

But is all this enough? Whether this extra support is sufficient to anchor us from poverty is of great importance to us all, but not least to people who may need a food bank.

Food banks are facing significant challenges.  Many of their volunteers are older and must be shielded, and teams are having to transform the way they work in order to continue providing emergency food safely. Through it all food banks need a supply of suitable food. We’ve  seen an outpouring of public generosity – businesses and individuals have stepped up to support, volunteers and staff are showing characteristic versatility and courage. But even with all this support, there is a limit to the number of people food banks can help.

We’ve seen a million people apply for Universal Credit over the past few weeks. Inside the Department for Work & Pensions, thousands of civil servants have been redeployed to process all these new claims. Just as we expect our National Health Service to be there to support us with the health crisis we face, our benefits system must likewise be ready to mitigate the worst effects of the economic crisis we also face.

But a decade of austerity measures, particularly cuts to working age benefits, has weakened our protection against poverty.  The need for food banks has soared 73% in the last five years. Our State of Hunger research shows the average household income of people referred to food banks is just £50 per week after housing costs. The majority of people – 86 per cent –  were getting support from our benefits system. People with disabilities, single mothers, people with long-term illnesses or mental health problems were among those more likely to need a food bank.

In this extremely fast-moving and complex situation, it is difficult to gauge how effectively the emergency measures announced by the Chancellor can repair our safety net, but it is unlikely that it will be able to catch everyone. At time of writing, for example, there is still a five week wait for the first Universal Credit payment. Though people can get money very quickly in the form of an ‘advance’, that money needs to be paid back so will be deducted from subsequent monthly payments.

In light of this, we are urgently calling on our government to:

  • Pause all deductions from benefit payments, including repayment of the advance payments people take out to tide them over in the long wait for their first UC payment
  • Increase child benefit payments to support parents at a time when family incomes are likely to be reduced (especially for those whose children normally receive free school meals)
  • Ensure that people are able to access local crisis grants easily and promptly should they find themselves in a crisis, enabling them to purchase their own food and essentials

As the economic crisis unfolds we will monitor the situation and we have assurances that the government will do the same. We are currently working with food banks to gather data on demand for emergency food. We have also commissioned research to help us better gauge the future impact of the economic crisis on food bank demand, and how effectively new measures announced will mitigate that.

This virus has affected the whole nation and it is right that a decent social security system be put in place to help people make ends meet and put food on the table, as our Prime Minister wrote last week.

As this outbreak has unfolded, we have seen many acts of kindness and community across the UK. There will still be adversity to face when this is over, but we must not lose the power we have when we come together as a country to make sure support is there for each other.

It’s exactly that mix of compassion and concern for justice that led to the creation of our NHS and benefits system 80 years ago. And it’s exactly that mix of compassion and concern for justice that should ensure in the future, our benefits system is there to stop all of us from being swept into poverty, whenever we need it.

 

 

 

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Colchester Foodbank: Asda Fight Hunger Create Change

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A key part of the Fight Hunger Create Change partnership between Asda, the Trussell Trust and FareShare is a grants programme for food banks in our network, providing crucial additional resources to increase the breadth of services they can offer people to help prevent someone needing a food bank again in the future.

This month we are collectively marking our two-year anniversary of the partnership and sharing stories of the difference it has made to people’s lives. A year on from receiving their grant funding, Colchester Foodbank has been able to achieve everything it had planned over three years. Michael Beckett, who is the chief officer at the food bank, explains what has been made possible…

Michael: Paramedics came to us after tending to an elderly lady who had collapsed in the street. When they took her home, they found her cupboards were bare – she had been surviving off half a bag of sugar that she’d been making sugar water out of as she had nothing.  The paramedics knew that unless she was helped with extra food, she’d collapse again as she had nothing until her pension came in the next week.

We were able to make sure she had enough food to see her through. This is the vital support we can give people– and with the Asda grant we have been able to double the amount of volunteers we can take on – we now have 150 helping us.

Unfortunately, we have seen a huge increase in need for our services, especially since people have moved onto the new benefits system Universal Credit. People are having to wait five weeks until they receive their first payment and so are going without.  Since that change from 2018 to 2019, we have experienced more than a 30% increase in demand, most worryingly a 41.4% in demand for children.

Our Asda grant has enabled us to take on a warehouse supervisor and the difference this has made is incredible. It has freed up much more of my time and not only enabled us to increase the amount of volunteers we have helping us – but we are now able to open on Saturdays, have opened at two extra locations and have been able to take on a long-term storage unit. This change has helped us facilitate this increase hugely.

Our increased capacity means we can better help the hospital discharge team with vouchers for food parcels, as well as social workers and schools.  Not only that, but people fleeing domestic violence and moving from refuges to a new home are able to come and we can provide them with items such as cutlery, crockery and a tin opener, as well as food, so they can settle better into their new life.

Being able to provide such support can be the difference between helping people at risk of having their children taken into care – or losing their home – because people are forced into situations where they cannot provide – or pay their rent.

I am so grateful to our volunteers who all work so hard day in and day out – and to Asda for giving us the opportunity to double the capacity of our volunteers, treble our footprint and accommodate a third increase in demand. Without that generous extra funding people would suffer because we wouldn’t have had the resources to cope.

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Two years of Asda Fight Hunger Create Change helping to create a future without the need for food banks

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A blog post by
Samantha Stapley
Chief Operations Officer

It is unacceptable that anyone in our country is forced to turn to a food bank. We’re working hard to reach a future where everyone has enough money to buy their own food, but we know we can’t get there on our own.

That’s why this week we’re marking the second year of our three-year Fight Hunger Create Change partnership with Asda and FareShare, and looking back at our work together so far.

A huge amount has been done in the first two years. Day in and day out thousands of our volunteers offer more than just food to people coming to food banks across our network and we want to ensure everyone who needs a food bank’s help receives the best possible support.

Not only has this partnership made it possible for more than 63,000 people to access fresh food last year, with that figure expected to rise in the year ahead – but it has enabled incredible specialist roles and services in food banks across the country to become a reality.

Food banks have been able to apply for grants to resource advice workers, support workers, counselling services, community fundraisers, warehouse managers and much more to help unlock people from the grip of poverty.

Take Ali at Ribble Valley Foodbank, for example. Ali, a past food bank volunteer and trained counsellor, was able to set up a tailored counselling service, the Gateway, with an Asda grant and built a team that has supported more than 50 people in the past year.

One young mother told her: “I’ve never felt so heard and understood by a therapist before and the lasting effects of my time with Gateway have been amazing. I now have the understanding and the tools to effectively navigate negative situations that arise.”

As well as this kind of holistic support, other projects have been able to get off the ground, such as a holiday club at Selby Foodbank. The food bank’s plan was to help people missing out on free school meals during school breaks by creating a special one-off family voucher for a parcel that would last five days, with sample menus.

The scheme has helped provide more than 5500 meals for children, enabling families to spend money on other essentials during the holidays.

But there is a second, transformative area of work the Asda Fight Hunger Create Change partnership has been instrumental in supporting. While our incredible volunteers continue to work tirelessly to support communities, we’re determined to reach a future where no one is forced to a food bank.

Right now, far too many people across our society are facing hunger and that’s just not right. But it doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of the UK’s future.

With cutting edge research and compelling evidence, we can work with policy makers to help find solutions moving towards an end to the need for food banks. Our partnership has been fundamental in supporting our work with academics to produce State of Hunger, the largest ever piece of research into hunger and food bank use in the UK.

This three-year project, carried out by researchers at Heriot-Watt University, will help us to understand the scale of hunger and poverty in the UK and is already informing our advocacy, campaigning and long-term work to move closer to a future where everyone has enough money for the essentials.

We are determined to ensure no one in their community goes hungry. Better still, we are determined to end the need for food banks in the UK – and the Asda Fight Hunger Create Change is helping us get there.

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Transforming compassion into action: how you can support food banks by campaigning for long-term change

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A blog post by
Emma Greenwood
Area Manager for South West England

One of the greatest privileges of my job is spending time with our amazing food bank teams. Living, breathing, walking embodiments of our key values of community, compassion, dignity and justice.

I spent yesterday morning with a small group of project managers. We were discussing what their roles entailed – the list of responsibilities went on and on and on.

Stock management, volunteer recruitment, volunteer management, health and safety, safeguarding, data protection, social media, external relations, donor relations, fundraising…

All that and the capacity to drop everything and deal with whatever issues are facing the people that arrive on their doorstep on any given day.

Handing out parcels of emergency food is part of what they do, but also advocating and signposting people to the support that is available. Spending time listening. Helping people join the dots of what support is available to them. Inviting often isolated people into community – making people aware of local social activities. Giving practical help. Small acts making a big difference.

In the face of rising numbers of people coming through their doors, what these project managers achieve is amazing.  Some are paid, others volunteer. These are the people that achieve the impossible – whatever they are faced with, they get the job done.

But it takes its toll.

Mentally, physically, emotionally.

An increase of 23% of food parcels given out across the network equals an increase of 23% on the demands of our volunteer base, on the time and energy they are devoting to make themselves available to those experiencing crisis.

It’s fantastic that across the country we have so many volunteers turning their compassion into action. Using their skills and life experience to help others. The truth is they shouldn’t have to be giving out emergency food parcels to people in increasing numbers.

Volunteers should not be bearing the mental, physical and emotional burden of supporting those who are driven through their doors when we know there are things that could reduce the amount of people needing their help.

Understandably the work they are involved in does not leave our food bank teams a lot of time to campaign for change. This is where you can play your part.

Become a Trussell Trust campaign supporter and join us in calling on the government to:

  • End the five week wait for Universal Credit
  • Make sure benefit payments cover the cost of living
  • Invest in local emergency support for people in crisis

Food banks should have no place in our society. We know that with your support #ThisCanChange

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My New Year’s Resolution? To use the voice I have to campaign for change

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A blog post by
Emma Greenwood
Area Manager for South West England

I’m reflecting on a busy week for the food banks I support across the South West.

I’m simultaneously saddened and angered by the increase of people coming through their doors; whilst in awe of the time and energy given by so many volunteers to cope with this increase in demand.  They must all be exhausted after probably their busiest Christmas ever – but still showing kindness and offering support to those in need.

People have been generous – warehouses are over-flowing with donations of food and its good to see financial donations coming in that ensure these organisations can continue to keep their doors open.  Thank you.

I’m often asked what people can do to support their local food banks – and yes, donations of food are really important.  Please get in touch with your food bank first to see what food they are most in need of – but hold off dropping anything off until January now as most are finding it a squeeze at the moment.

But do you also know else you can do?

Don’t accept that this is normal.  Continue to be shocked and saddened by the news of increased food bank use and think about how you can play a part in working towards a future where food banks are not needed.

We know hunger in the UK is not about lack of food.  It’s about people not having enough money.  And we know that things need to change.

Everyone can play a part and challenge the structural issues that lock people into poverty.

So, my New Year’s Resolution is going to rise to this challenge – to use the voice I have to campaign for change.

Who’s with me?

You can sign up as a campaigner or ask for a volunteer pack to help us end the need for food banks. We know that with your help, this can change. 

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