Christmas crisis for Devon Food Banks

Ross Bryant
Ross Bryant

Devon Food bank operators are warning of a surge in usage over the festive period, with the Universal Credit rollout being blamed for increased demand.

Figures released by The Trussell Trust who run food banks nationwide show that Devon had the highest food bank usage in the South West region over the last two years, with December consecutively being the busiest month for people in crisis.

Matt Mahoney, South West manager of the Trusell Trust, told The Moorlander, “Here at the Exeter food bank we’re expecting the busiest December ever. Last December was by far the busiest we’ve ever seen and we think this year could be much busier.”

The Trust has seen a direct increase in areas where Universal Credit has been implemented. “Nationally, we’ve seen an 52% increase in demand in areas where the new benefit system has been rolled out,” added Matt.

During December 2017, The Trussell Trust’s UK network provided 159,388 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, of which 65,622 of these went to children. This is a 49% increase on the monthly average for the 2017-18 financial year.

The Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said, “Christmas is supposed to be a time for joy but what we’re seeing is the festive period becoming increasingly stressful for more and more people across the country. Our benefits system is supposed protect us all from being swept into poverty – but what we’re seeing is people struggling to heat homes and put food on the table because they simply cannot afford the basics anymore and that just isn’t right.”

Speaking to The Moorlander a new claimant who wished to remain anonymous said “My circumstances have recently changed in that I’ve gone from being a single mum on benefits to having a job for 16 hours a week. I’ve been hugely grateful to the government for providing for me and my children while I couldn’t work but I’m now very nervous about the changeover period between the benefits I get now and the Universal Credit I’ll receive. I’ve been told that it will take 6 weeks for the change in circumstance forms to be processed.”

Luke Pollard, Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, recently hit out at Esther McVey, Former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. McVey, who oversaw much of the implementation of Universal Credit was told that “she should have resigned” over its problematic implementation. “This Government is falling apart, time for a
General Election,” added the Labour MP.

Three women have now mounted a legal challenge against the government, claiming that the Universal Credit system is ‘discriminatory.’ The flaw, they say, comes down to how the payments are calculated the payments provide a ‘dramatically fluctuating income’ from month to month. They can also suffer financial shortfalls because of what their lawyers call a ‘rigid, inflexible assessment system.’

Food donations are always needed. To find your local food bank please visit The Trussell Trust website. Donations of food are especially needed during early December. “What we really need is for people to donate any food they can as early as they can in December,” said Matt Mahoney. “We have an army of hard-working sorters but given the amount of people in crisis it can take a couple of weeks to get it all sorted and distributed. If you want to donate food for Christmas, then the time is now.”

Local Life