Published: 00:01, 23 April 2017
Food banks are being put under intense strain after recent disability benefit cuts led to a surge in users.
Changes to Employment and Support Allowances (ESA) came into force this month, and have left many long-term disabled people £29.05 a week worse off.
The cuts were hailed as a bid to encourage people back to work, but many disability charities have criticised the changes, which have left many struggling.
One charity says it has seen around an increase of around a fifth in those asking for help in the last year.
Another said some of the most desperate families in the county face a £1,500 a year benefits reduction.
These new benefit changes strike another blow for services already under pressure.
Medway homeless charity One Big Family (OBF) has issued an urgent appeal for packed and tinned goods due to a rise in people using their services.
“ESA benefits have been capped and slashed and it’s caused a lot of people to be put in a vulnerable position.” said founder Liz Shaw.
“Sometimes people who we are looking after in vulnerable housing can be financially worse off than those on the streets.”
OBF, who recently won a Pride in Medway award, have been running a weekly soup kitchen in Chatham since last October.
“Our food kitchen is getting bigger and bigger. We’re now having 70 to 80 people approach us in need every week. We’re in desperate need” - Liz Shaw
“Our food kitchen is getting bigger and bigger.
“We’re now having 70 to 80 people approach us in need every week.
“We’re in desperate need.”
Ian Childs, the director of Helping the Community, the charity responsible for the Medway food bank, has said how this is now a common issue.
“For the first time in our history, the volume of food leaving our warehouse is actually exceeding the levels of donations coming in.
“Our stock levels are in decline and we are now needing urgent donations.
“The only reason we can now fulfill the requests of people needing help from us is because we have got a warehouse with about eight tonnes of food in it.
“That food will run out in a couple of months.”
Mr Childs also blames benefit cuts for the influx in people relying on food banks.
"In the last year the demand for emergency food for residents of Medway has gone up almost 20%.
“To claim that the benefit changes and benefits cuts that have taken place have had no impact in that picture would be foolish to say the least.
“The level of cut and the speed of the cut are just beyond the ability of most regular people to deal.
“To assume that is not going to have a serious impact on people’s lives and people’s ability to get by and to continue to survive and eat well.
“It’s beyond me, it’s literally beyond me.”
The Trussell Trust, an organisation which runs eight food banks across Kent, confirmed benefit payments are the main reason people need emergency food.
The trust's food bank network director Adrian Curtis said: "Areas with a high proportion of people unable to work because of disability also have high food bank use.
"A change which could leave people on a financial knife edge may mean more families struggle to put food on the table.
"Food banks are here to help when people hit crisis but we can’t stop hunger alone."
For more details on how to donate to One Big Family, contact 07788253047 or visit their Facebook page.
For more details on how to donate to the Medway Food Bank, contact 01634757057 or visit their website.
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