By Andy Hirst
Horrific energy prices coupled with roaring inflation will lead to a ‘perfect storm’ of poverty with more pressure heaped on food banks than ever before.
The grim prediction comes from The Welcome Centre which runs Huddersfield’s main food bank and says people will be seeking help this year who never thought they would ever need to rely on one to survive.
And they have revealed that many people are just a couple of pay cheques away from needing a food bank and as soon as a job is lost the rest of their lives can unravel exceptionally quickly.
The Welcome Centre chief executive Ellie Coteau has just returned from maternity leave and, along with Kate Auker who has been temporary chief executive for the last 13 months, have revealed they have already seen an upsurge in people seeking help since the turn of the year.
Most worryingly is the huge increase in children they are helping – up from 296 in January 2021 to 519 last month.
There were 1,126 referrals to the service this January and 34,000 meals were provided for 1,352 people.
Some people are already living with no gas or electricity and although some may live in hotel-based accommodation, the concern is there may be others who can’t afford to put money in their electricity meters or have already had their power cut off.
They are provided with special food packs that don’t need warming up – but it means some will be eating cold rice pudding or custard. Last month 74 people were provided with these packs to help them survive.
Fortunately, some of the town’s best-known food names such as Hadfields bakery, Greggs and Nando’s all chip in by providing food to the The Welcome Centre every week.
Ellie said: “We knew there would be a spike in January but nowhere near as large as this. Most people are only one or two pay cheques away from needing a food bank. The cost of living is so expensive many simply have no cash reserves. Others just don’t have a family to support them and we become their safety net. People end up needing our help even though they have worked hard all their lives but their circumstances can change in a heartbeat.”
The government had given people on Universal Credit benefit an extra £20 a week during the pandemic and when this stopped The Welcome Centre saw an upsurge in referrals. People on the breadline had been just about managing with this extra money but once it was taken away they couldn’t make ends meet and so many have returned to the centre for help.
The huge increase in energy prices will hit the poorest the hardest.
Kate said: “It follows that people in lower income household have to spend a far greater proportion of their money to heat and light their homes. Many simply won’t be able to afford this and the Government help such as £150 off council bills and the £200 loans will hardly scratch the surface.”
Some people who need help from food banks have pets who are also going hungry so the The Welcome Centre desperately needs cans of dog and cat food donating.
People have been very generous supporting The Welcome Centre with food donations or by simply giving cash which many did during the pandemic so the centre can buy fresh food to give away.
But people are urged to check the out-of-date stamp on food before they donate it as The Welcome Centre has to pay to get rid of it in their business waste if it’s inedible.
Ellie said: “We have a saying that it’s important to donate, not dump. What we provide is someone’s only source of food, not someone else’s kitchen clear-out.”
The oldest item Ellie has ever seen is a box of Birds custard dating back to 1979.
If people donate sheets, pillowcases, towels and duvets they all need to be new, nearly new or fully washed or dry-cleaned.
A new way to help The Welcome Centre is to donate your Nectar points from Sainsbury’s. To find out more about how to do this go to https://www.thewelcomecentre.org/pages/donate-your-nectar-points-to-the-welcome-centre-
Again, the points are used to buy fresh food in bulk such as eggs, bananas, butter, cheese and potatoes.
The Welcome Centre has grown to be far more than just a food bank with its Advice, Guidance and Support Service (AGS) growing from one person to a full-timer, two part-timers and several volunteers.
Their role is to speak to people using the food bank to find out the reasons why they are there and can advise on benefits – many people simply don’t claim what they should – budgeting and how to get specialist help for underlying issues such as their mental health.
Ellie said: “Food banks are now not just for crisis provision – their need is more long term and the AGS has grown naturally out of that. People may not be claiming what they are entitled to claim because they could be too proud, too anxious or have a fear of filling in forms and dealing with phone calls. We can help to guide them through these systems.”
Some of the most extreme cases of debts they see are among people who were once reasonably well off.
Ellie said: “They will often go to the end of their credit card limit before they seek help and by then are in extreme levels of debt. We especially saw this during the pandemic with people furloughed or made redundant who thought they were a million miles from needing a food bank and then found themselves turning to us for help.”
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.
The Welcome Centre always needs more volunteers and to check out all the roles available go to their website at https://www.thewelcomecentre.org/
* Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting. Copyright Andy Hirst.