What happens when you live in London and are working three low paid part-time jobs, only one of which offers paid leave? Then on top of that daily struggle, your daughter starts having psychotic episodes and you have to take time away from work?
This was the experience of Theresa (not her real name), who came into this London food bank on Friday.
Theresa is a single mum who recently had to give up work for a few weeks when her youngest – a 19 year old – had a psychotic breakdown. She combines bar work, cleaning and acting as a midday supervisor in a school, but the school is the only job offering her some paid leave. So caring for her daughter through the worst of her illness plunged Theresa into an immediate financial crisis.
Those weeks with hardly any money worsened an already precarious financial situation. Her income is £439 a month, while her rent is £192 a month.She spends £10 on electricity and £15 on gas each week (British Gas is the provider for both) and she pays as she goes using a card. She now has credit card debts of £1,500, council tax arrears of £400-500 and rent arrears of about £300. She also has to tackle working and child tax credit over-payments of £994.
This situation has pushed Theresa and her daughter into food poverty. Her daughter’s care coordinator at the local mental health trust spotted the severity of the situation and was able give her a voucher to take to this London food bank – one of a network of nearly 400 set up by the Trussell Trust in partnership with churches and communities. As well as supplying the emergency bags of food, we were able to offer Theresa some contact details for the local branch of debt counsellors Christians Against Poverty and another local debt counselling organisation. We also gave her contact details for the council’s welfare advice service and information about the council’s hardship fund.
Theresa has little choice but to live off her credit card, much as she loathes to do this.
Today, the Trussell Trust launched Give our Kids a Christmas, in partnership with the Mirror and the union Unite. The appeal is to raise funds to help food banks give foodboxes to families in crisis like Theresa’s.
This is a brilliant campaign, but we need to tackle the causes of the inequities that leave people like Theresa and her daughter struggling to eat. Why, for example, does the UK have a massive problem with low pay, with one in five employees low paid in 2012? See the Resolution Foundation report on this. Terrible as it is for the young, older lives are also being blighted. Nearly half of the low paid are aged between 31 and 60.
Food poverty campaigner Jack Munroe has today – in tandem with this Christmas food bank appeal – launched a petition via Change.org calling for Parliament to debate the causes of UK hunger. Why is food bank use increasingly so rapidly?
Details of the petition are here. It’s already got nearly 44,000 supporters. Sign it, please.