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Gravesend food bank facing rising demand as winter takes its toll on hard-up residents

PUBLISHED: 09:00 30 December 2016

Project manager David Idowu

Project manager David Idowu

Archant

The food bank’s project manager accused the government of using it as a “safety net” for welfare reforms

A Gravesend food bank is expecting to see demand for its services rise once again as hard-up people struggle to make ends meet during the winter months.

Gravesham foodbank was opened in 2012 and last year provided 3,596 three-day emergency food supplies to people in difficult circumstances.

Yet despite a growing UK economy and rising levels of employment, the number of people set to use its services is steadily increasing.

Project manager David Idowu told the Reporter: “We usually have a pick-up in demand because it is Christmastime, and we are having more people generally than we used to have.

“In December 2015 we had an 81 per cent year-on-year increase on the previous year, and I am assuming we are going to have similar numbers this year.”

Almost unheard of in the UK before the 2008 recession, food banks are now commonplace as many people struggle to earn enough to put food on their tables.

There are now thought to be around 1,000 in the UK, and the largest provider, the Trussell Trust, revealed it distributed more than one million emergency food packages in 2015 to 2016.

“More people know we are there to help,” Mr Idowu explained. “We are becoming an institution. We are finding that more and more people are becoming dependent.

“We get mostly local people, working class people, people who have lost their jobs, or who are on low incomes, or who have been sanctioned. They come to us to fill the vacuum.”

Since 2012, the Conservatives have pushed through large-scale reforms of the benefit system, and a study published this year by researchers at Oxford University found a link between benefit cuts and food bank use.

“Welfare reforms have a lot to do with it,” Mr Idowu continued.

“When people apply for benefits, it is hard between when they apply and when they get them, and also when people are sanctioned they are sent to us to help them.

“If I am to be brutally honest, the government is using food banks as a safety net for most of their welfare reforms. We are taking the slack.”

Sceptics have claimed that abuse of the system is commonplace, and that many people who could afford to feed themselves are using food banks to save money - but Mr Idowu strongly rejected such claims. “That is pure ignorance because the food banks have a system in place where people are vetted,” he explained.

“They have to be referred by the social workers and the like - people who know who is really suffering - and they refer them to us.”

Gravesham foodbank, which is run by the Trussell Trust, offers parcels that contain a minimum of three days of nutritionally balanced, non-perishable foods that have been donated by the local community.

A typical parcel includes items such as soup, pasta, rice, baked beans, tinned meat, instant mash and biscuits.

The trust relies on volunteers who give up their time to help local people at food banks, while others work in warehouses to sort through the items donated to the charity.

Mr Idowu said that while demand for its services is increasing, the generosity of people keen to assist those in need is helping the food bank to cope.

“I would say we are getting more and more people who appreciate the work we are doing, and a more and more generous public who are coming to give, especially through churches and supermarkets,” he explained.

“Lots of individuals are being more generous and giving.”

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