Published: 06:00, 30 September 2021
| Updated: 15:10, 30 September 2021
The end of furlough and a £20-a-week uplift in universal credit could see unprecedented numbers relying on food hand-outs, according to a Kent charity.
Canterbury Food Bank (CFB) says a combination of factors - including the end of a temporary rise in universal credit, and higher gas bills and national insurance contributions - will spell a “perfect storm”.
Watch the lowdown: Will more of Kent be in fuel and food poverty by winter?
The charity has been under “exceptional” pressure during the pandemic, which saw demand for its services double.
It provides more than 5,000 meals a month to vulnerable families across the Canterbury district.
But it is now anticipating even more pressure as winter approaches, and is stockpiling food in preparation.
During the pandemic, payments of universal credit - which supports those who are out of work or on low incomes - were raised by £20-a-week to help those struggling.
But the measure is due to end on October 6, prompting a stark warning from CFB’s chair of trustees, Martin Ward.
“Canterbury Food Bank has been under great pressure during the pandemic and there is no sign that this will come to an end,” he said.
“Now we face new challenges as the government removes the £20 uplift on Universal Credit, so that benefit rates are lower in real terms than they have been at any time since the 1980s.
“At the same time the furlough and small business support schemes are being wound down.
“We anticipate that the number of vulnerable clients coming to us, which has already doubled during the pandemic, will increase further.”
Some existing food bank clients have expressed concerns about the coming months. One client, who did not wish to be named, said: “I am struggling to feed my family as I need to keep the home warm for the children. I’m worried about the difficult times ahead and how I will cope.”
Another woman said: “I’m on a key meter and have a debt repayment plan in place but I am still struggling to meet the payments without the gas price increase. I don’t know what I will do when the prices go up.”
Some have pointed out the £20-a-week hike was “only ever meant to be temporary”, but other district residents say people have come to rely on it.
On the Facebook page of KentOnline's sister paper, The Kentish Gazette, Nicola Robinson wrote: “I’m a single mum doing a full time degree so this will be a big loss for me and my son.”
Bobbie Lee added: “I’m not on universal credit, but I’ve lived through times where my finances were mega stretched and I was living hand to mouth.
“£80 less a month would have meant struggling to pay bills or buy food. So many people are going to be massively affected by this.”
Canterbury Food Bank urges those in need to seek help.
Coordinator Angela Gardiner said: “If you are struggling CFB are able to help with basic food, toiletries, cleaning items, nappies etc.
"Don’t wait till your cupboards are empty before you come to us for help.”
Mike Arnold is from Employment Law 4 U in Herne Bay
Warehouse move as public support needed 'more than ever'
Canterbury Food Bank has moved its warehouse to a new site in Whitstable.
The charity had long been based in premises owned by Riverside Vineyard Church, off the Thanet Way in Whitstable.
Last week, volunteers helped move to a new base at the Joseph Wilson Industrial Estate.
Mr Ward thanked supporters and members of the public for “generous donations” that helped CFB acquire the new site.
“This will enable us to further expand the service we can offer people in need,” he said.
He also paid tribute to CFB’s team of more than 120 volunteers, who collect, pack and distribute food parcels to vulnerable families and individuals across the district.
“Our volunteers have had to adapt, ensuring food gets to our clients in a Covid-safe way and that risk of any infection in our warehouse is minimised,” he said.
“They worked more than 13,000 unpaid hours in the last year, and gave out some 61,000 meals to nearly 3,000 children and 4,000 adults.
“Our volunteers contribute far beyond the level which anyone could reasonably expect. Without them the Food Bank would not be able to survive.”
Mr Ward added that CFB “needs public support more than ever”.
“We have been very fortunate in in the generosity we have received and hope that this continues into the future,” he said. “Canterbury Food Bank will continue to do its very best to meet the needs of families in the Canterbury area.”
For more information on the help CFB can provide, visit the charity's website.
Donations can be made here.