The number of people in Sussex turning to food banks for help has doubled in the past year.
With record numbers of families turning to charities to simply put food on the table, campaigners have said more needs to be done to combat the massive increase in those unable to afford to feed themselves. Reporter Natalie Leal hears from those on the front line of food poverty.
A mother with a baby was forced to walk from Portslade to Brighton to ask for a handout to feed her young family.
She could not afford the bus fare to reach a food bank, never mind anything to eat.
Her case is just one of thousands happening every day in Sussex.
Every day more than 20 children in Sussex have to be given an emergency food parcel to stop them going hungry.
Charities across the county have reported an “alarming” rise in food poverty and there are concerns about how they will meet the increasing need for support.
In the last year almost 25,000 people were referred to Trussell Trust’s Sussex food banks, more than double the 12,000 hungry people fed the year before.
Nutritious meals They are now handing out emergency food parcels to 68 people every day with children accounting for over a third of those receiving food.
A scheme to provide nutritious meals to school-age children in Brighton and Hove is now having to open new branches to meet demand.
And Fareshare Brighton which delivers food to 65 Brighton and Hove charities and community projects have seen a 38% increase in the last 12 months and is now feeding 3,120 people every day, up from 2,250 in 2012.
It has seen the number of children and families receiving help through breakfast clubs, youth centres and community cafes double in the past year.
Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust, said: “In the last year we’ve seen things get worse, rather than better, for many people on low incomes. It’s been extremely tough for a lot of people, with parents not eating properly in order to feed their children and more people than ever experiencing seemingly unfair and harsh benefit sanctions.
“The figures don’t include those helped by other emergency food providers, those living in towns where there is no food bank, people who are too ashamed to seek help or the large numbers of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.”
The centres provide three-day food supplies, with items such as cans of fruit and vegetables, pasta, rice and cereal. They also provide nappies and wet wipes for parents of young children.
Many reasons are thought to be behind the spike in referrals, such as low incomes, benefit changes and debt. Changes and delays to benefits payments accounted for half of all of the referrals made to the Trussell Trust between March 2013 – 2014.
Julie Denyer, manager of the Worthing Trussell Trust food bank, said: “We only get half the funds we need on a regular basis to reach out to all those local people in crisis.
“I am so grateful to all the people who support us either by helping to fund the project, giving food at the supermarket collections or volunteering for us. Without this help we would not be able to run.”
Soaring need Central and Sussex Citizens’ Advice Bureau issues food vouchers to those facing hardship.
In one case a father on jobseekers allowance found himself cut off from his benefits after he moved house.
Faced with no income at all during this time, he was referred to a food bank so he and his family could eat.
Other food charities have also expressed concerns over the soaring need for meals.
Lindsay Boswell, CEO of Fareshare, said: “The trends are alarming. We’re supporting more people and more charities than ever and while we hear that the economy is recovering, we know it will always be hardest for the most vulnerable in society to regularly access food.
“The charities we support are providing a lifeline to thousands of people every day. As more people turn to them for food, they’re turning to Fareshare for help.”
One of the charities supported by Fareshare Brighton is The Purple People Kitchen at Portslade Town Hall.
Councillor Penny Gilbey, who helped set up the new food bank in October 2013, said it was clear there was a real need to start one in the area.
Councillor Gilbey said: “We had one young girl with a baby who was walking all the way to Brighton with a pushchair to get to the nearest food bank before we opened.
“She didn’t even have the money for the bus fare.”
“It’s not just people who are not working. We see families who are in work but just don’t have enough money to buy food.
“They have to make the choice between heating and eating.”
The food bank, run entirely by volunteers, sees around 25 people every Friday when they open for two hours over lunchtime and the food runs out fast.
Fareshare Brighton also provides food to a project helping low income families who struggle to afford food during school holidays.