Another busy morning at the food bank. Our team are so worried about what we’re seeing currently and where it will go from here. Last week we registered a 91-year-old man. During the interview, he shook his head and said “in all my life, I’ve never taken from charity. Not once. But there’s nothing left now after the bills”.
Week after week we have more and more guests visiting us, with more heart-breaking stories. It’s the same at food banks across the country. Our food bank is part of the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) and we regularly share experiences and concerns alongside other independent food banks. We’re all feeling the strain and are desperately worried about the future.
Our food bank was founded in 2013 and is a small one, operating just one morning a week. We’re based in south west London, in a relatively affluent area. Four-bedroom houses sell for over a million pounds here. Yet we are seeing our numbers rocket, and problems explode. Two years ago, a busy week would have meant supporting 30 households at the food bank. Now we regularly have 100 or more. And following the inadequacy of the Spring Statement, the cut to universal credit, and cost-of-living increases spiralling out of control, we know numbers will inevitably continue to grow.
As our guest numbers rise, we are seeing changes in the types of people seeking our help. We have far more families than before as well as people with mortgages – something we never would have seen a year ago. And perhaps the most alarming trend is the number of people in work. In a recent session, fifty percent of our guests had work of some sort. We support delivery drivers, hospital workers, carers, warehouse packers. They need the food bank as their wages are too low and/or their hours insecure. Some are entitled to benefits, but with an irregular income, navigating this sort of help can be a minefield. Many fear being hit with crippling deductions if they get the form filling wrong.
Most of our new registrations have never visited a food bank before. Taking the step to visit us is a very difficult one – we often see people wait at the gate before coming in. Some can’t quite take that step inside and don’t actually make it across the threshold that week. One week we saw a new guest hide in a hedge in the garden outside – she couldn’t bear the thought of seeing a familiar face.
There’s always a short registration interview for new guests. This enables us to understand why people need a food bank and how we might help and support. This is always a difficult, emotional conversation. We frequently hear these phrases: “I’ve let my family down”; “I always managed before”; “We just can’t make it work at the moment”. It’s heart-breaking to hear guests admonish themselves, when, in reality, it’s circumstances beyond their control, a broken system that’s to blame.