Paying bills or buying food – that is the desperate dilemma faced by hard-pressed families.

People in one of the most deprived areas of Brighton told how high energy bills and squeezed budgets were forcing them to visit food banks to feed their families.

Yesterday The Argus reported figures that showed a 62 per cent increase in people visiting Whitehawk Foodbank for emergency food.

When The Argus visited the food bank yesterday, a steady stream of people arrived after being referred by the city council or churches.

One mother of two, from Whitehawk, who was on benefits after being made redundant five months ago, said she only had £30 left for food after bills. Joanne, 43, said: “Say tomorrow I will get £67 in jobseekers, after gas and electric, it will leave me with £30 which has to last me for a week.

“People might say £30 is a lot of money, but when you spend it on buying food £20 has gone already, and there is only £10 for the week.”

A 30-year-old man, who did not want to be named, said despite holding down a job, he was still struggling to buy food.

The food bank, run by charity The Trussell Trust, has seen a 62 per cent increase in people referred to it between April and September 2017 – that is an additional 246 three-day emergency food packs provided to local people in crisis compared with the same period in the previous year.

In total 644 people were in such desperation they needed emergency food supplies from the food bank, mirroring a rise nationally at the charity’s food banks across the UK.

The increase has been put down to delays with benefit payments, accounting for nearly 60 per cent of the reasons given for the referrals in Whitehawk.

The figures do not include the traditional spike in the winter months, due to high energy bills and cold weather.

Manager of the food bank Doug Curties said it was busier than ever. He said: “It means for the volunteers we have to work a lot harder and we see more people and we have to make sure we make it as easy a process for them as possible. We’ve had a number of weeks where it has been very full on.”

He said the food bank will get even busier as the Government’s new single payment for people out of work, Universal Credit, is rolled out in phases across the city, with Whitehawk due in January.

He said: “There are major concerns which have been voiced by the Trussell Trust. Where Universal Credit has been rolled there has been a definite increase inproblems. It is the gap waiting for the money to come through and clients lost with the online system. All the food banks in Brighton are concerned. Sadly people are not getting the money when they need it and are not getting into the system as they need to, so we are expecting a definite increase next year.”

Susan Stone, from debt counselling charity Christians Against Poverty, said she has been inundated with clients left destitute as they wait for their first payment.

She said: “The food banks I go to are worried what the extra demand will be like and are tightening up how they give out food, just so they have enough when people turn to them because of this.”


A SMALL church in the heart of one of Brighton’s most deprived areas has become a lifeline to struggling families.

Every Wednesday, St Cuthman’s Church becomes Whitehawk Foodbank, run by the Trussell Trust.

When I went to visit the bank in Whitehawk Way, I found a steady stream of people filing through the doors in desperation.

Volunteer befrienders were sitting at tables to process their referral and ask them about what food they need and any dietary requirements.

Mother-of-two Joanne, 43, from Whitehawk, found herself at the food bank after being made redundant from her job as a cook five months ago.

She has since struggled to feed her family as she looks for work. She is on £101 Jobseeker’s Allowance every two weeks and £66.82 child tax credit for her 13-year-old.

“Say tomorrow I will get £67, after gas and electric, it will leave me with £30 which has to last me for a week. People might say £30 is a lot of money, but when you spend it on buying food £20 has gone already and there is only £10 for the week,” she said.

Her situation was further complicated by paying back a loan and losing child tax credit for her 18-year-old daughter as she is not attending college due to mental health issues.

After being referred to the foodbank, Joanne was walking away with three days’ worth of shopping.

“It means tomorrow I don’t need to buy food, because I’ve got enough from here,” she said.

Across the room I spoke to a man, who was in work yet still struggling to find money for food.

The 30-year-old from Whitehawk said: “I was referred by a lady at the city council a couple of months ago, due to my low income.

“I only earn £450 a month and with bills everything piled up and I am broke. It was the high energy bill also I am living in overdraft. My wages don’t even cover them, it’s a never-ending circle.

“I was embarrassed coming here at first, but everyone here is really nice and the food lasts a few days which is better than nothing.”

Also in the room were people from other charities giving advice on debt, money advice and energy bills, all part of a move to help people so they don’t have to come back to the food bank.

Joanne said: “It’s not just about the food, they welcome you and there are people you can actually chat to. It is like an extended family.”

Downstairs in the kitchen I found a mini army of volunteers packing shopping bags full of food such as cereal, tinned soup and pasta to last families for at least three days, though it often lasts a lot longer.

One volunteer, who previously used the food bank when she fled domestic violence with her four children and baby, said the food bank was a lifeline when she found herself in emergency accommodation with a four-week wait for any cash from benefits.

She said: “One day I had it all and the next day we had nothing. For our own safety we had to leave everything. While I was waiting for benefits to be sorted out I was in turmoil myself trying to be strong for the children but also thinking how are we going to eat. That weight was lifted off our shoulders because the foobank was there to help me and take one burden off.”