West Somerset Labour Party says the unprecedented demand being placed on the local food bank is evidence that the Conservative government is driving up child poverty. Labour is calling for a halt to the roll out of the discredited Universal Credit, an end to the public sector pay cap and better help for families in need.
West Somerset Food Cupboard is asking local people to donate tins of beans, along with other non-perishable food, to help it to meet record demand from people who can’t afford to feed their families during the summer holidays. The food cupboard has given out more than a thousand food boxes and parcels so far this year.
The food cupboard’s co-ordinator, Ann Gibbs, has seen a sharp spike in demand since schools broke up for the summer. Ann said:
“Recently I arrived at the food cupboard to see that eleven boxes had gone out on the same day. On the same day, six bags of donated goods arrived and as always I was touched by the generosity of so many going out of their way to help others.
“We have got families with children on holiday and they are not getting their free school meals, so they need food. These are families who can just about manage during term time, but are struggling to make ends meet while the children are not at school.
“For the first time ever, we recently ran out of baked beans!”
Currently, the food bank is in urgent need of tins of cold meat, beans and pasta. It is also asking for soup, tinned fruit, cereal, rice, tea, coffee, sugar, long life milk and fruit juice.
Clients are referred to the food cupboard by other agencies, so Ann often does not know the details of why people need help. But she says it’s clear that the introduction of Universal Credit to replace other benefits is a factor. She said:
“All agencies have noticed that because of the trial of Universal Credit, there are a lot of people finding that process tricky, and it’s taking a long time for people to get their money. The big issue is the six week delay for payments. It’s a long time when you haven’t got any money. It’s a long time when you’ve got a family to feed.”
Labour blames Universal Credit failures
Labour says the problems being experienced in West Somerset and other trial areas show Universal Credit is failing people in need. Labour councillors and MPs are urging the government not to roll out Universal Credit any further and to take action to fix the problems that have left people needing food banks to feed themselves and their children.
The West Somerset Labour secretary, Kathrine See, said:
“Labour governments lifted a million children out of poverty between 1997 and 2010. Now that process has gone into reverse. The Institute for Fiscal Studies expects a million more children in poverty by 2020.
“This Government has not only failed our society’s most vulnerable but also working families who cannot afford to feed their children on low wages and zero hours contracts. The public sector pay cap has left people in vital services such as nursing struggling to make ends meet.
“ In the world’s fifth largest economy this situation is outrageous and highlights the grotesque inequality of the distribution of wealth under Tory rule.”