A foodbank on every street?

Peter and Sandra Cordwell
Peter and Sandra Cordwell

A south-east London resident who collects emergency supplies for Trussell Trust foodbanks is calling for a campaign for a “mini foodbank” on every street.

Local residents have donated food and other items to Peter Cordwell (@Dimwot), a former newspaper editor aged 69, for about three years. He and his wife Sandra pass on the food to two foodbanks in Kidbrooke and Sidcup.

He said many more street collections similar to his in Pitfold Road in Lee were required, “as I think we are going to see more need out there”. Those who see a requirement for more support for those unable to feed themselves or their families “need to do practical things” to address the situation, according to Mr Cordwell. He added. “It would be great if there was a mini foodbank on every street.”

What first got him interested in collecting items for foodbanks? “It just seemed like a very simple lovely idea. People who were donating were saying ‘well this is what we are doing – this is what we believe in’.”

His recent political affiliations were also a motivation. “Politically I’m a new member of the Labour party. There are 600,000 of us  – being ignored by the Blairites and all the rest of them as irrelevant. My view is that to oppose the right Labour needs to be much more community orientated so that they win people over through their community work. Things like this are one way of doing it.”

Does he ever feel angry about the need for him to collect food for people who can’t afford to buy it? “It’s a kind of anger, but there’s no real point in anger, is there? I’d much rather get on with doing stuff about it.”

But one local man believes a much more widespread and organised approach to community food collection could let government off the hook. Ray Woolford operates We Care – an independent foodbank  – and is a member of  Lewisham’s left-wing People Before Profit. He said: “We Care only operates as an emergency food bank and runs food and kids clubs during the holidays. I’m not in favour of the rise in foodbanks when it is clearly a failure of  the government, who clearly think that whatever they do , the good spirit of the public will offer social services for free .”

What do you think? Demand for foodbanks isn’t going to go away soon. So is there a role for citizens to step in more here?

Or is it the job of government in a first world place such as the UK to ensure state benefits are set at a level that ensures no-one starves? Views are welcome here and to Peter Cordwell @Dimwot and @Raywoolford

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Besma and her twins

greenwich foodbank
Greenwich Foodbank

A quietly spoken young woman comes into the foodbank for help and tells me about the events that have led her here.

Besma (not her real name) is 24 and is  from Casablanca in Morocco. Her English is good. She speaks slowly and precisely, and is keen to share her story. She wants people to understand that she needs help because of  her particularly vulnerable situation.

She tells me she had been studying management and economics at university in her home country. Back in Morocco, she met a 46-year-old  Polish man who had been living in England for 12 years. They  got married  two years ago and seven months ago she moved here to join him. She became pregnant almost immediately.

She tells me that in March  – when she was still at an early stage in her pregnancy  – he  was abusive towards her. While in Morocco he had been a “model man”, but when she came to London she says he became very different  –  “like he wanted to control you. He was always saying ‘I’m jealous’”.

The police were called following an incident and they advised her to remove his things and that he should stay away. Her husband then stopped paying the rent and the landlady told her to move out. The same day she went to the council and was given some temporary accommodation. She was given her own bedroom in a shared house.

She found out she was expecting twin girls. She adds: “It’s hard for me. Too many things have happened to me in the last month. But I keep going just for  my  girls” That house, with her room on the first floor, is suitable for a single person. But it will not be adequate for a woman with twin babies to care for, and she is seeking to be rehoused. I also wonder why she has been rehoused in mixed gender accommodation. Were any risk assessments done before rehousing her as victim of domestic violence?

In March she applied for jobseeker’s allowance, but this was refused. She is now appealing that decision. One of the grounds for the appeal is that she is entitled to recourse to public funds based on her marriage to a citizen with permanent leave to remain. The local Citizens’ Advice Bureau  and  Greenwich Community Law Centre have been providing help to her during the appeal process.

She says the people she’s encountered in London haven’t always been kind to her. But she met a woman from Kenya at the local mosque who has befriended and supported her. She admitted to the woman that she had no access to benefits and was having to survive on  foodbank vouchers. The woman gave her some money. “The woman told  me: ‘I haven’t given you a gift for the girls, so this is your gift now.’”

When her husband became violent, she contacted Al Hasaniya – an organisation that serves the needs of Moroccan and Arabic -speaking women and their families in London. They provided her with a social worker. Two months ago the social worker helped her apply for a one-off grant  of  £300 from  the Zakat Foundation, an initiative which uses funds and voluntary donations collected in the UK to benefit vulnerable members of the Muslim community.

She is very aware that her diet needs to be good. While the foodbank voucher enables her to have a three-day emergency supply of long life food, she is using what remains of her £300 to buy some fresh food. She also has to find £10 each week for the service charge for her emergency temporary accommodation. “This was a surprise to me as they know I don’t have money,” she says.

In addition to the ongoing support she’s receiving from the Al Hasaniya social worker, Greenwich  Children’s Services have also provided her with a social worker.

Her experiences seems to reflect those of a growing number of  people using the foodbank, according to Greenwich foodbank manager Alan Robinson. He is noticing an increase in those who cite domestic violence as a reason for needing help.

Besma’s only concern now is to provide a safe home, food and some measure of security for the twins. Her resourcefulness and dignity as she searches for these in a City where she has no family and few friends is truly impressive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jam, bread and universal credit

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It’s more than 18 months since I  last caught up with the manager of  Greenwich Foodbank  Alan Robinson. So what’s changed since then?

On the face of it the number of people food  has been provided to across the eight foodbanks in the borough has stayed constant in this part of south-east London.

In the year to March 2014  they provided donated food to 6,500 people in total and the figure was more or less the same in the year to March 2015 –  but with fewer children within that total.

There were  2,500 referrals  to the foodbank in 2014/15 and 2,700 referrals in 2015/16. So the local picture in Greenwich is one of  more referrals year on year but fewer households and families with children being referred.

Greenwich Foodbank is part of the Trussell Trust  – a network of 400 foodbanks providing a minimum of three days’ emergency food and support to people in crisis. Nationally the network provided food for 1.1m in 2015/16  and that compares with 1.03m in 2014/15.

Any steady growth in referrals would seem to have been stemmed, says Alan – “but the cynical amongst us would say that it was an election year”.

He adds: “There were very few welfare changes planned for last year and the welfare programme still has a significant number of changes outstanding. The principle one is universal credit which hasn’t really hit Greenwich. Universal credit only exist in Greenwich for new claimants who are single. If you are single and a new claimant you go directly to universal credit.”

Universal credit is a single monthly payment for people out of work or on a low income which has started to replace six benefits with a single monthly payment. A comment piece  in yesterday’s Guardian  highlights the experience of one 23-year-old graduate living in Greenwich, whose postcode falls into a Department of Work and Pensions “trial area” for universal credit. She told the interviewer of a litany of problems with the application process that have resulted in her having to make a new claim over a month after she first applied. She is now £1,500 in debt after having to take out a bank loan to pay her rent and borrow money from friends. According to the author of the article @DrFrances Ryan, the scheme is “littered with administrative errors” …. and “even when it works exactly as intended claimants have to wait at least 42 days before receiving any money”.

Meanwhile she tells the author she’s “living off  bread and jam”. The universal credit welfare scheme will not now be completely rolled out until 2022, the seventh delay since 2013. Given this young woman’s experiences perhaps the delays are actually a small blessing, says Dr Ryan.

It sounds as if she’ll soon become another statistic at the Greenwich Foodbank, if she can get a referral sorted out. Greenwich job centres are a major source of referrals to the local foodbanks.

Manager Alan Robinson says that in terms of organisations in Greenwich who refer people to the foodbanks, there’s been a year on year increase of about 10 per cent. Which organisations are referring? “We have good coverage with the community health teams, people who do health visiting and organisations helping  those in the community with mental health issues. The vast majority of people in those teams are signed up. In terms of GP practices it’s largely the big health centres.”

He notes two key trend in terms of  the groups of clients whose numbers have increased year on year. He is seeing an increase in people who cite domestic violence as a reason for needing to come to the foodbanks. This also chimes with the story of one young woman I’ve just interviewed for the blog whose experiences I’ll be writing about next week.

The other growth area in clients year on year is amongst those who have no recourse to public funds – “people who are present in this country but can make no valid claim for benefits”.

He adds: “In the main it’s people in this country with no (legal) right to remain here and that could include asylum seekers or people who are here because they’ve managed to sneak in. It’s a whole mixed bag of reasons. We are seeing more people in that category.”

It’s very good to start catching up with people like Alan, his wife Esme, and  the other lovely and dedicated volunteers across their network.

I’m looking forward to starting to get to know some of the many clients they support and to sharing their life stories and insights with you over the coming months. Behind every foodbank statistic there’s a unique and valuable human story.