By Andy Hirst
Huddersfield food bank The Welcome Centre is seeing a massive rise in the number of families needing help as it faces the bleak prospect of a perfect storm of rocketing energy prices and benefits cuts.
The centre is now helping 20% more children than it did a year ago and over the last two weeks it has had 147 referrals to help people who simply can’t make ends meet.
They have already helped one client where an energy company has increased their monthly bill from £80 to £200 … and the person simply can’t afford such a massive rise.
Chief Executive Kate Auker said: “Someone asked me recently if what’s happening now is going to be as bad as the 1980s when things were dire. It’s not going to be like the 1980s … it’s going to be far worse.
“The saying ‘heat or eat’ is becoming well-worn these days but we are facing the terrible prospect where there will be many people this winter who won’t be able to afford to do either without support from charities like The Welcome Centre.
“The sad thing is that food banks should not exist at all but the fact they do and the demand on them will be higher than ever is deeply troubling. Behind every referral is a story of someone really struggling to afford the absolute basic essentials in life.
“There is an awful lot of human misery behind these statistics. These huge energy price increases just don’t add up and it’s a deeply worrying time.”
The £20 uplift on Universal Credit was scrapped this month with the Government saying it was only a temporary measure but The Welcome Centre is already seeing the cuts make a huge difference.
Kate said: “People are already turning to us for help which shows that this extra £20 made all the difference to them. It was probably paying their food bill every week.
“That £20 temporary payment should have set the framework for a permanent change. These people had disappeared from the food bank and were managing to cope but they are already coming back and asking for support.”
She revealed the highest month ever for referrals of people desperate for help in recent times was in April 2020 just after the UK went into the first lockdown when 1,186 people sought help – well up on the usual 800 a month pre-Covid figure.
Kate revealed that the rates for this October are set to be higher than April 2020.
“Referrals are already on the rise,” she said. “With so many families that need our help we are making up bigger packs to support babies, children and young people living in food poverty.”
She said Kirklees Council has been incredibly supportive throughout the pandemic. Since March 2020 when The Welcome Centre closed its doors to clients, Kirklees Council has provided three vans and drivers to deliver its food packs to those people in need of support.
The Welcome Centre will be open to the public again at its Lord Street base in Huddersfield town centre from November 1.
When people think of food banks the natural urge is to donate food which is always welcome.
But Kate says the most effective way anyone can help The Welcome Centre is to donate cash – be that through a personal donation, business or fundraising.
She added: “Money means we can buy whatever we need when we need it at a discounted price. We buy it wholesale and then get it out quickly and directly to those most in need.”
She said the pandemic had led to a huge change in their client demographic including many people who had never needed to use a food bank before. Many had no idea how to navigate this system. Before Covid they were just about getting by on zero hour contracts or a minimum wage but the pandemic changed all that.
The Welcome Centre provides an advice, guidance and support service that works side-by-side with the crisis food provision. This service aims to support people who need help by giving them access to grants and advice, enabling them to move back to independence and with a sense of dignity as quickly as possible.
The Welcome Centre has 117 volunteers and seven paid staff – and Kate said they are tired after being so busy during Covid.
“We have a fantastic team and that’s so important at times like these when we know we have another major challenge just around the corner,” she said.
“We are, however, still improving our service for clients and increasing the support we can offer them, getting them through the system as quickly as possible.”
People need to be referred to The Welcome Centre and lots of professionals and organisations can do this including GPs, social workers, community psychiatric nurses, housing services, Kirklees Citizens Advice and Law Centre, Huddersfield Mission or the person in need can phone Kirklees Local Welfare Provision Team on 01484 414782.
The centre provides food packs to last seven days and can provide toiletries, kitchen equipment and bedding. The Welcome Centre distributed 16,842 crisis support packs last year of which 10,226 were food packs – enough to provide more than 320,000 meals – up from just under 280,000 meals in 2020 and 240,000 in 2019.
It costs just over £50 for The Welcome Centre to feed a family of four for seven days.
Setting up a donation is easy and can be done here https://www.thewelcomecentre.org/pages/31-donate in a couple of minutes.
Drop-off points where people can donate food are at supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s at Shorehead, Asda on Bradford Road, Tesco in Huddersfield and Morrisons at Waterloo.
The full list is on The Welcome Centre’s website and for more information go to https://www.thewelcomecentre.org/
* Written by former Huddersfield Examiner Head of Content Andy Hirst who now runs his own Huddersfield-based agency AH! PR specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting for business in Yorkshire and across the UK.