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‘You can’t live on thin air’: the wait for Universal Support

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Abby Jitendra, Senior Policy Officer at The Trussell Trust

 

‘I am sick, disabled, and visually impaired, hard of hearing. No help has been offered. I had to go ask my local church for help.’

The impact of Universal Credit on society in the UK is only just beginning to be felt. By 2022, all existing eligible claimants – 12 million people – still on the legacy benefits system will have been migrated to the new system. Universal Credit is, by design, a departure from the legacy benefits system, and the transition has already had wide-ranging effects on claimants, statutory bodies, and voluntary organisations.

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Yes, Universal Credit should make work pay – but the benefits system must protect us all from hunger

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Garry Lemon, Head of External Affairs at The Trussell Trust:

Since its inception we have supported – and still support – the key principles of Universal Credit. We agree that a simplified benefits system that is easier to navigate would help millions of people across the UK. We agree that work should always pay for those supported by this new benefit.

But there is a third principle that must underpin our entire welfare state: it must provide enough money for those who need it to afford the basics – at the very least, food and shelter. As a nation, we expect no one should be left hungry or destitute. Illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job can happen to any of us. We owe it to ourselves to ensure sufficient financial support is there when we need it most.

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We smile, offer a cuppa and have a wee chat: what’s it actually like inside a foodbank?

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If you’ve caught any news over the past few years, you’ve probably heard a fair bit about the rise in foodbank use.

But it’s hard to imagine what a foodbank is actually like if you’ve never been inside one.

I run Hamilton District Foodbank. We work across Hamilton and Blantyre in South Lanarkshire, and have been giving emergency food to people referred to us since 2013 – in 2016-17 we provided 4,015 food supplies to local people. But like so many other foodbanks in The Trussell Trust’s network, we offer a lot more than emergency food.

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As the cold weather bites, how do we ensure everyone has enough money for fuel?

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“I am constantly writing letters and making phone calls to see what help or advice I can get. I am at breaking point, as each day there is something else to contend with. I feel helpless, mentally exhausted and so low. I really don’t know what I am going to do. I cannot get by month to month. It’s hard enough doing it week to week on a low income. I can’t afford to use my heating, even though it is so cold and my son suffers with his chest and lungs. No doubt he will end up in hospital during this cold period.”

This Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, we want to want to raise awareness not only of fuel poverty, but also the responses, both amongst local communities and through policy, that can stem the tide.

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Putting food on the table: the human right to eat in the fifth richest country in the world

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As a society, we believe in justice and compassion. That, as we grow up, we should have the same chance to get on and succeed in life – whether we’re from the Cheshire countryside, or the potteries of Stoke-on-Trent.

For most of us, this starts with having enough to eat, proper clothing, and a safe place to call home. But what happens when we can’t put enough food on the table? Who can – and should – step in to help?

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Why working with Asda & FareShare will help bring us closer to ending the need for foodbanks

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It’s simply not acceptable that so many people in the UK face hunger, and we won’t sit by whilst increasing numbers of people are expected to hit crisis and need a foodbank’s help.

We’re committed to creating long term change, challenging the structural issues that lock people into poverty and seeing an end to the need for foodbanks. Whilst we work on this, we’re also committed to ensuring everyone referred to a foodbank in our network receives the best possible support.

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Why does having a disability or health issue make you more likely to face hunger?

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“I was sanctioned because I missed an appointment at the Job Centre.  I was severely depressed, and sometimes when I am like that I can’t leave the flat.  My electric has almost run out so I can’t heat water and I am having a light on as little as possible. I know the cause of my depression and anxiety but I can’t get any free counselling or help.”

Mick’s* account of his struggle to keep his benefits in payment is typical of many of those we hear at Exeter Foodbank.  Disclosing personal details to strangers, filling out complex paperwork or navigating call centre phone systems can be daunting for anyone.  For those, like Mick, who suffer from chronic mental health conditions, or have limited literacy and digital skills, it can be a Herculean step too far.  Many arrive at our foodbank’s doors in desperate circumstances, with nowhere else to turn.

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We can’t end hunger without knowing its scale

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Until you understand the true magnitude of a problem, you cannot effectively solve it. That’s why this week, as part of End Hunger UK, a coalition of organisations trying to eliminate hunger, we released figures on the scale of hidden hunger in this country. The findings are shocking. Over 1 in 10 adults are skipping meals because of lack of money. When you look at parents with children aged 18 and under, that rises to 1 in 4.

To anyone who has spent any time in a foodbank, however, these findings will not be a surprise. What is happening up and down the country is mirrored in our network of over 400 foodbanks.

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Dave Magill, Area Manager for Northern Ireland reflects on the ‘reality of foodbanks’

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I’ve now worked for Trussell Trust for 7 months. I had another of what I think of as my ‘reality of foodbank’ moments today.

We were in a meeting with someone who wanted information about how a Trussell Trust foodbank works. As we explained the model that we use, causes of food poverty and talked through some statistics of foodbank use in Northern Ireland and the wider UK network, I was again experiencing the contrast of feeling that comes with this job.

Working with foodbanks is simultaneously saddening, infuriating, uplifting and inspiring. Working with people of such passion and commitment to serving and helping those in crisis in their community is humbling and challenging. Engaging with the causes and reality of food poverty in 21st century Northern Ireland is shocking and crushing.

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Foodbanks in 2017: Change is Possible

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Read the new report Emergency Use Only II 

Three years ago, CPAG and the Trussell Trust were among the organisations who published Emergency Use Only, one of the first pieces of research to shed light on the drivers of the enormous increases in food bank use that we have seen this decade. We found that the immediate trigger for food bank use was all-too-often caused by the benefit system – through delays, errors, and sanctions – that prompted an acute income crisis, leaving households with little or no income. Turning to a food bank was often an action of last resort, once people’s other avenues of support had been exhausted.

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