Amanda (not her real name) sold her wardrobe recently to buy food for her partner and child. She’s 19 and a full-time student. By this stage in the week, most of her classmates will be looking forward to a night out. Friday nights mean a chance to catch up with their friends and perhaps even go clubbing if they have a bit of spare cash. Things are different for Amanda, whose hair is starting to fall out due to the stress of life with an ill partner and a four-year-old son.
She came to this Trussell Trust food bank in London today because her young family has been without child tax credit for 14 weeks. The Jobcentre gave her a voucher. Her 23-year-old partner had been signed on with an agency, offering him irregular and very part-time work with the local council. But Amanda believes the worry of trying to earn enough money to pay bills and buy food in the absence of the child tax credit brought on the terrible migraines that have forced him to give up work.
Amanda says: “We were living off child benefit and whatever we could sell of our furniture. My partner was put on employment and support allowance (ESA) because the doctor said he wasn’t fit for work. The ESA didn’t start arriving until a week ago, but we only got one week’s money instead of the three weeks he’s owed. Before he got ill he worked through the agency as a park keeper and he also did removals for a while. He had a low and unpredictable income.”
I ask her how not having enough money has affected them. “We’ve both lost weight, and I’m really depressed. It’s very hard to get out of bed in the morning. My hair has started to fall out.” She lives in a council house where water has started coming through the kitchen ceiling, and she’s unable to use the light in the room until it dries out.
She’s trying her best to stay focused on her course – a BTEC in medical science. She’s in her second year, and if she passes she can go on to university. There’s a great determination to do that, but in reality, some days she doesn’t have enough money to get to college. She is entitled to a bursary, but it only comes every three months. Amanda needs the money now. Amanda feels like her college is not giving her enough support. “They say you can go and talk to the finance office, but that’s a room with 20 people in it and there’s no private space where I can talk.”
Amanda, her partner and their child are battling to create sort of future in their sparsely furnished flat. Meanwhile we wait for the long-delayed report on food aid in the UK to emerge. Commissioned by Defra, it should help explain why there’s been such a growth in the number of food banks. According to a Guardian article, the suspicion is that the report has been held up because it illustrates a clear link between welfare reform and the growth of food banks. Welfare reforms are certainly not helping people like Amanda and her loved ones.