Food bank users in despair

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John Gurney with supplies for the Foodbank ready to go into the store room

Volunteers at the Bexhill Foodbank, Rye branch, not unsurprisingly meet people visiting the food bank who are at the lowest point of their lives. Volunteers are trained to ensure a warm and friendly welcome to all visitors, with their efforts directed towards ensuring the provision of emergency food supplies, with respect and dignity, for all those in need.

Often volunteers also provide emotional support to people who are in great distress and experiencing real suffering. Volunteers not infrequently hear stories of delays and confusion with the benefits system. This is especially common for those transferring from the former tax credits to the new “universal credit”. Prolonged delay and difficulties can induce a sense of hopelessness and feelings of suicide.

Many people feel they want to explain their presence at the food bank – although absolutely not required to explain anything – and become  emotional when describing the stress and difficulties of dealing with the benefits system. Food banks fill the gap when universal credit administration has fallen short, and claimants are left without means of support for themselves or their families, often for weeks at a time.

Universal credit regulations are administered under strict guidelines that some claimants, especially older people,  do not easily understand. One of the main principles is that claimants are entirely responsible for their own claim. If a deadline is missed, which can happen if you are elderly,  disabled and without good computer skills or access to a computer, claims are automatically closed. Last week one visitor to the Rye food bank, who is close to retirement age and badly disabled, told us how she had received yet another request to attend a medical for a claim that has been ongoing since last October. This lady, in tears, clearly expressed her inability to persevere, and said she had had enough and wanted to die. She came in on two crutches and was barely able to walk.

Universal credit is a big change to the way state benefits are delivered. It seems dependence on charities and voluntary services such as food banks to plug the gaps and shortcomings remains essential. In Rye it is especially difficult as not everyone has the means to travel to Hastings job centre to get advice and assistance with universal credit. Currently this is not available in Rye.

If you can help, please donate food stuffs to the collection points at Jempsons, the local churches or the food bank itself when it is open every Wednesday between 12:30 and 3pm behind the Baptist church in Cinque Ports Street Rye.  Cheques or cash are welcome and these should be made payable to Bexhill Foodbank Rye Branch and sent to John Gurney at Watchbell Corner, Traders Passage Rye TN31 7EX.

Image Credits: Kenneth Bird.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Sadly so necessary these days even here in Rye and surrounding villages. The trustees and volunteers of Rye Community Shop were pleased to be able to help with a recent grant of £500 towards purchasing items.

    • Kate thank you for this. Yes we were all very delighted and grateful to receive the £500 grant which has gone a long way to replenishing our stores and is so very encouraging to all of us who volunteer. Was a tad ironic that Amber Rudd presented the cheque but c’est la vie! Thank you all very much.

      What is also a concern at present, and what I’ve tried to point out in this article, is the need for one to one help for those who, for one reason or another, cannot cope with the complexities of the Universal Credit system and find it difficult to visit the Job Centre at Hastings every time a query arises. Its very difficult to get through on the phone and then to make an appointment etc. it would be much better if those in need had access to support in Rye.

  2. Yes, it’s incredibly difficult to penetrate the system by phone. Even though the 0800 numbers are free to call, it may take upwards of an hour to get through to anyone who can help. And if you complain about the poor service that this provides to claimants, you won’t get an answer.

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