Demand for Suffolk and Essex food banks continues to grow

Maureen Reynel, founder of FIND. Picture: JAMES FLETCHER PHOTOGRAPHY

Maureen Reynel, founder of FIND. Picture: JAMES FLETCHER PHOTOGRAPHY - Credit: Archant

Changes in the benefit system and the rising cost of living are among the issues driving a surge in demand on Suffolk and Essex food banks, it has been claimed.

Colchester Foodbank manager Michael Beckett. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Colchester Foodbank manager Michael Beckett. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Between April and September this year, Colchester Foodbank gave out 2,874 three-day emergency food parcels to people in crisis – a 16.6% increase compared to the same period in 2016.

Ipswich charity Families in Need (FIND) has given out around 3,400 food parcels so far in 2017, and founder Maureen Reynel said more people were using the service every year.

Food bank bosses say the roll out of Universal Credit, which is replacing most means-tested benefits, is leaving local people struggling because new applicants have to wait around six weeks after a successful assessment to receive the cash.

Mrs Reynel said: “It means people are waiting for money, even though it’s back dated they have to eat in the meantime so any change in benefits, doesn’t matter what label they put on it, has an adverse affect on people using those benefit systems.

“It’s just a mess really. We just have to keep trying to plug a gaping hole to see these people through until something else good happens for them.”

Demand on FIND is “non-stop”, Mrs Reynel said, with the number of food parcels handed out hitting double figures most days.

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She added: “It’s not only food, it’s household items too.

“It’s the same old story - people really trying to make £1 do what they need £2 for.

“It’s really tough. Food prices have gone up, everything has gone up – travel, household goods. You can’t get anything cheap anymore.”

In August this year, FIND made an urgent appeal for donations of food because the escalating need had left its shelves bare.

Michael Beckett, interim manager of Colchester Foodbank, said: “It’s really worrying that we’ve now seen a 16.6% increase in need for emergency food across Colchester area. Every week people are referred to us after something unavoidable – like illness, a delayed benefit payment or an unexpected bill – means there’s no money for food.

“It’s only with local people’s help that we’re able to provide vital support when it matters most, and whilst we hope one day there’ll be no need for our work, until that day comes we’ll be working hard to help prevent people in crisis, going hungry.”

The running costs of Colchester Foodbank are around £1,500 a year.

Food banks traditionally see a spike in referrals during the Christmas period due to a number of factors, such as cold weather and high energy bills.

See here to donate to Colchester Foodbank, and here for FIND. Both charities are also searching for volunteers.

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