Rye Food Bank volunteers are sometimes asked why people come to visit and who are the people we supply with emergency food. Kath is a typical example.
Kath lives with her three teenage sons. Her youngest son has several serious medical conditions and requires intensive support. After her partner left four years ago Kath gave up work to become his full-time carer. This left the family finances in precarious financial position: “We live very close to the edge… we don’t have many things. My 17-year-old needed a passport to get a part-time job and I had to say no. My youngest, who’s 14, has never been on a school trip, and I can’t afford the art supplies my other son needs for his course.”
The family were just about managing when their child tax credits were halved without notice. Kath had arranged her finances so that she relied on her tax credits to pay for food and other daily necessities, so the effect was catastrophic.
When Kath contacted HMRC, she was told her credits had been cut because she had failed to tell them that her two older sons were staying in education. Kath says she did update them. She was assigned a case worker and given a number to call, “and that’s where the problem started”.
“I called them every day all day and couldn’t get through. And every time I got put through to the answer machine we got charged. It was awful. I’d go back to the helpline and say “I can’t get through”, and they said “Well, that’s the number”. They didn’t help at all. It went on for eight weeks.”
Kath is horrified by how she was treated. “When our money was stopped, there was no compassion, there was no way to get support.” Meanwhile, she was getting into more and more debt: “We got behind on all our bills; everything just got swallowed up, and my direct debits were bouncing.”
She became unable to meet the family’s basic needs. “It was freezing cold, there was no wood for the fire, I was on the emergency on the meter and I knew the lights were about to go out, and I had no food.”
To attempt to make ends meet, Kath had to rehouse a much-loved family pet, a decision which she described as “heart-breaking”. But this was still not enough: “I had no money to get my children to school… I was desperate.”
To compound their problems, her youngest son’s conditions mean he needs to eat healthily, which Kath found challenging on a small budget. “He can’t eat fast food; he would have ended up in hospital.”
Kath and her family survive with the help of donations from the food bank. It took eight weeks for the decision to cut her child tax credits to be overturned. She said of her experience: “I thought the system would protect me. I never thought I would be completely ignored. I feel I was let down hugely. My benefits are my safety net – if they’re removed, how are families like ours meant to survive?”
Please keep your donations coming. We are now opening on Wednesdays only at the Baptist Hall in Cinque Ports Street in Rye to receive donations and for clients to visit.
Monetary donations can be sent to the Bexhill Food Bank Rye Branch at Barclays Bank, sort code 20-54-25, account number 83501116, through the Jempson Foundation or cheques to Rye Food Bank c/o 24 North Salts, Rye. If you donate via the Jempson Foundation and are a taxpayer, gift aid can be applied, thereby increasing the value of the donation by 25% at no cost to the donor.
You can contact Rye Food Bank at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you need help from Rye Foodbank contact Rother District CAB on 08000 2904 3948, email: email@example.com, or the Hastings Advice & Representation Centre (HARC) on 0333 344 0681, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image Credits: Mags Ivatts .