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.