CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Use of foodbanks in Camden soars with 90 per cent increase

'I don’t know how we have become a society that thinks it’s acceptable to have people homeless on the streets'

12 December, 2019 — By Samantha Booth

DEMAND for emergency packages at Camden foodbanks is soaring, amid warnings that low incomes and the overhaul of the benefits system is driving people into crisis.

The Euston foodbank alone has seen a 90 per cent increase since 2017, as well as a sharp spike in the number of homeless people needing their help. Dorothea Hackman, chairwoman of its trustees, said this figure is set to rise as Universal Credit continues to be rolled out.

“Austerity is to blame, without a shadow of a doubt,” she said.

“Universal Credit is one aspect of austerity. People just haven’t got enough money to live on. There’s no trickle-down of wealth from the top, the people at the bottom don’t have anything.”To be eligible to use a foodbank, a resident must first be referred by care a professional, such as a social worker or a doctor, and given a voucher which is exchanged for three days of emergency food, which is donated or bought in.

Figures from the Trussell Trust, which runs three foodbanks in Camden including Euston, show that there has been a 27 per cent increase. Between April 1 and September 30 last year, a total of 3,534 packages were issued in Camden, including 837 to children.  This has gone up to 4,512, including 986 for children, in the same period this year.

The implementation of Universal Credit began in the borough in November last year. The new benefit system introduced by the Conservatives wraps six benefits into one, but critics say the five-week wait period before it starts is leaving people in crisis and without money.  Ms Hackman said the main reason for those in need turning to a foodbank is low income, followed by changes and delays to benefits, and debt.

Euston foodbank often has to be “rescued” by other foodbanks with extra supplies or buys in items because of high demand. The latest statistics from the Euston foodbank show those with “no fixed address” – who are likely homeless or sofa-surfing – is rising steeply. In 2017/18, 632 packages were handed out to those with no address. This rose to 810 over the past financial year. From April to September this year, that had already reached 822, and if it carries on that rate, it will have doubled by the end of this financial year.

Ms Hackman said: “I think it’s such a condemnation of our society. I don’t know how we have become a society that thinks it’s acceptable to have people homeless on the streets when we have such a high level of income.”

Jon Glackin, founder and coordinator of homeless outreach project Streets Kitchen, said more funding was needed to help homeless people and austerity was the main driver of the problem.  Streets Kitchen offers free food across London, including in Camden Town, and also has a shelter in Islington.  Mr Glackin added: “I’ve spoken to kids who speak about ‘foodbank Friday’. Hearing this it’s not normal, but it has become normal on housing estates. I see a lot of it.  “Universal Credit, they have to scrap it. It just is unworkable.”

The New Journal reported earlier this year how nearly three-quarters of council tenants on Universal Credit are in rent arrears. Campaigners staged a demonstration over the summer as they warned that families were struggling to feed their children during the school holidays.

In July, 4,000 were claiming the new benefit. New figures were not available this week due to the election period “purdah” but will be released next week, according to the Department for Work and Pensions.

A DWP spokesman said: “We spend over £95billion a year on working age benefits and Universal Credit supports more than 2.5 million people across the UK. With Universal Credit people can get paid urgently if they need it and 95 per cent of payments are made in full and on time.”

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