The Hastings Foodbank, which has reported a shocking 87 per cent increase in use over the last two years, is making an urgent appeal for donations over the Christmas and New Year periods. Emma Harwood reports.

Situated at King’s Church on The Ridge, it is one of 428 food banks across the country run by The Trussell Trust – a charity dedicated to helping people in crisis.

From January to October this year in Hastings, which has seen one of the biggest increases in food bank use in the country, it received 3,123 referrals and provided 68,697 meals. Of these, 28,226 were for children.

While this staggering escalation – which rose again by eight per cent this year – corresponds directly with the introduction of Universal Credit in Hastings in December 2016, the charity also reports an enormous increase in the numbers of poverty-stricken people in work needing to rely on food parcels to feed themselves and their families.

Foodbank figures also show a rise in the number of people referred to the charity who are suicidal, or suffering from mental health problems such as anxiety, stress and depression, due to their financial difficulties.

Although there are other charities and organisations in Hastings helping to tackle food poverty, such as Dom’s Food Mission  and Hastings Food Pantry, by either distributing food or offering low prices on essential food items to the hungry, the Trussell Trust food bank is the only one which keeps strict records of referrals, which could suggest there may be many more people going hungry in the town who are not accounted for in these statistics.

Shortly before she returned to the cabinet in November as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye, Amber Rudd championed an initiative launched in October by the Citizens Advice Bureau and the bus company Stagecoach, offering those with food bank meal vouchers a free return bus ride from the town up to the The Ridge to retrieve their food parcels – a move which would save them the £4.80 return fare.

She called the initiative a ”fantastic new incentive” adding: ” It is great to see Citizens Advice and Stagecoach working together to provide free bus travel to the Hastings food bank. I believe this is a great service for those most in need.”

But the irony of her own comments appears to have been lost on the former Home Secretary, whose government’s dogged austerity measures, have, among other things, resulted in cuts to council funding of vital support and welfare services and are now seeing their full impact in deprived towns such as Hastings.

Back in July, this newspaper highlighted a report by the Hastings Advice and Representation Centre (HARC), a charity which offers benefits advice, support and representation to the most vulnerable, showing that flaws in the new Universal Credit System and its draconian means -testing process had driven people to the brink of suicide and were having a devastating impact on their lives.

Natalie Williams, the Communications and Community Engagement Manager at King’s Church said that, in the four years prior to the ‘roll-out’ of UC in December 2016, food bank use had remained static, before drastically increasing in 2017 and 2018.

“What was formerly our ceiling has now become our floor,” she said.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of people in poverty with nowhere to turn, with lots of people in work being referred to us, who just can’t make ends meet.

“Others are struggling with Universal Credit – either the gap while they await their first payment, or when a mistake is made by their employer or the Jobcentre that means they go without money they were expecting.

“For example, we’ve seen people who have picked up a shift or two at work, but when they’ve declared it, instead of their claim being adjusted, it’s been accidentally closed. This means they’ve had to wait another five weeks with no money coming in.

“We’re also seeing a huge increase in people who are coming to us with mental health issues, increased stress, anxiety and depression, and even suicidal. It really is true that this could happen to any of us.”

Items particularly needed are tinned vegetables, tomatoes, meat, fish and soup, rice pudding, custard, long-life milk and juice, teabags, cereal, pasta, pasta sauce and rice. Residents are also welcome to donate Christmas treats.

Donations can be made at King’s Church on The Ridge, 9am-5pm Mondays to Fridays, and during Sunday services as well as at Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco, NatWest and Nationwide.

For more information about Hastings Foodbank, visit:  www.hastings.foodbank.org.uk


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