Soaring demand for Sheffield food banks as benefit cuts bite

Sharon Pease, among cash-strapped residents being helped by Firth Park Food Bank
Sharon Pease, among cash-strapped residents being helped by Firth Park Food Bank
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THE number of food banks in Sheffield has almost doubled in the last year - and organisers predict they could be ‘overwhelmed’ as benefit cuts hit home.

Firth Park Food Bank, which has been providing a meal and food parcels for struggling families every Saturday for the last year, was visited by politicians as research showed changes to benefits will hit Sheffield claimants by £174 million annually.

The figures, put together by Sheffield Hallam University, show the cuts work out at £471 per working age adult in Sheffield.

Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough Labour MP David Blunkett and councillors visited Firth Park Food Bank, at West Quadrant - one of 15 now operating in Sheffield up from eight a year ago.

There, families told of their daily struggle - and said they feared benefit cuts would make them even worse-off.

Sharon Pease, aged 56, of Firth Park, who looks after two of her grandchildren full-time, gets by on £70 a week job seekers’ allowance and £111 a week child tax credits.

Family allowance is saved up for their annual holiday.

Her income is being squeezed by demands for £18.25 in council tax, which she is having to pay for the first time.

Sharon, who is starting training to be a community befriender, a role which involves helping elderly people, said: “I have to pay rent, gas, electricity and my television licence. There’s no money left for luxuries.

“I used to be on income support but have been deemed fit for work so was put on job seekers’ allowance. 
“The food bank helps because Saturday is when the two grandchildren are at home and I have to find three meals.

“Doing a big shop costs £60 to £80 a week, then I get bread and milk each day.”

Full-time mum and grandmother Rose Kerrigan, 49, started using the food bank because she was hungry and now volunteers to make the Saturday meal.

She said: “I’m having to pay an extra £17 a month council tax and £20 a fortnight extra rent with the ‘bedroom tax’.

“I get £130 a fortnight child tax credits and child benefits, and £80 a week for myself in benefits. It doesn’t go very far.”

One of the organisers, Phil Davies, 53, from Lowedges, a former soldier who was homeless but was helped by the Cathedral Archer project, said: “People who come here are suffering - but we are able to help them and it also fosters a sense of community, bringing people together who have not met before, despite sometimes even living on the same street.

“We not only help people at the food bank - I’ve taken tins from my own cupboards to give people who are struggling.”

Firth Park Food Bank is run by Pastor Sam Okerenta, of the Royal Assembly church, which holds services in the same building.

He said: “There are 15 food banks around Sheffield run by church volunteers, up from eight a year ago. We are now helping up to 60 people a week, from about 15 when we started.

“We are putting our volunteers through courses such as food hygiene to help them get jobs.

“We also help people during the week by delivering food parcels. Benefit cuts are likely to bring more demand and food banks could be overwhelmed.”

The food bank is provided with deliveries through the National Lottery-funded Food Aware project, based in Doncaster, which collects donations from supermarkets of food nearing its sell-by date rather than letting it go to waste.

Sean Gibbons, of Food Aware, said: “We’ve been running since 2008 when people started to be affected by the economic crisis, and the situation is getting worse.

“We work with 40 organisations around South Yorkshire, not all of which call themselves food banks but do a similar role.

“We also have a side project called HYPER - Helping Yorkshire People Eat Responsibly - which runs in parallel and aims to promote healthy eating.”

BENEFIT CUTS STUDY

The £471 annual cut per person in Sheffield revealed by the Financial Times study includes £115 from incapacity benefit, £97 from tax credits and £86 due to the one per cent cap on benefit increases.

Other cuts included are £61 from child benefit, £21 from housing benefit due to spare bedrooms, and £39 from disability living allowance.

The worst-hit place in Britain for benefit cuts is Liverpool, equivalent to £707 per adult, but in some affluent areas of the South East, cuts work out at around £250 per person.