The growth of food banks has been really noticeable in the last few years. In our city there are now five open or about to start work, including one operating in South Leeds. Across Yorkshire and Humberside the number of people – adults and children – needing help from foodbanks has jumped enormously from 3,202 in 2011/12 to 18,739 in just the last nine months alone. And nationally, the Trussell Trust says 500,000 people – a third of them children – have relied on foodbanks since April last year.
The reasons why this is happening are not hard to find. Benefit changes like the bedroom tax and council tax benefit cuts. The cost of gas, electricity, food and petrol all going up (two people came to a recent advice surgery and said they are afraid to put the heating on). People who haven’t had a wage increase for some time, or whose hours or wages have been cut. Benefit sanctions (which I wrote about last month). The disappearance of crisis loans. And sudden catastrophic changes in people’s lives. Desertion by a partner, illness or redundancy can all result in people having no money because it takes time to get help sorted out. But in the meantime, there’s no food on the table, and some people who turn up haven’t eaten for days.
Even in these circumstances it takes a lot for someone to put their pride on one side and ask for help. That so many people are doing just that shows just how big a problem this is.
The South Leeds foodbank is open on Tuesdays from 10.00am – 12.00pm at Middleton Methodist Church, Hopewell View, Middleton, Leeds LS10 3TE and on Fridays from 1.30pm – 3.30pm at the Health For All Café, Belle Isle Road, Belle Isle, Leeds LS10 3PG. For enquiries please contact: 07580 873 170 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
How can we all help? By getting involved and donating money or food (dried and packet foods are what they really want). Volunteering – there’s lot to do. Fundraising. Encouraging local supermarkets to back collections – as a number have done. And making sure that people know where they can get help.
We should thank all of the volunteers who are working so hard to help people in our community of South Leeds who are going through a tough time, but we also have a wider responsibility. And that is to ask this question: how come in the sixth biggest global economy at the start of the 21st century we have so many people who are unable to feed themselves and their families ?
Something is badly wrong and we need to sort it out.
Hilary Benn, Member of Parliament for Leeds Central