How much has your weekly shop gone up since Christmas? How about petrol costs? Let’s not talk about energy bills!

By Alison Wise
Thursday, 10th March 2022, 3:31 pm

For some people in Sheffield, the rising cost of living is an annoyance. Something to grumble about with friends. One less evening out, or spending an hour on price comparison sites trying to reduce monthly bills. Nothing more.

But for some people, the rising cost of living, most noticeably seen at the supermarket checkout, is leaving them with no option but to access support from the Sheffield S6 Foodbank.

Over the past two years, we’ve seen demand increase dramatically across our foodbank network. From supporting 150 people a week from four sites in March 2020, we are supporting 1200 people a week from eleven sites in March 2022. Our foodbank sites stretch across the city, from Crookes to Sharrow and from Woodhouse to Firth Park. Demand is continuing to grow as the cost of living crisis bites.

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The Covid-19 pandemic amplified a range of issues that were already present in our communities; insecure work, low wages, substandard housing conditions, and poor physical and mental health. The majority of people accessing our foodbank network are doing so due to debt and problems with benefits. People who lost their jobs during the pandemic faced a minimum 8-week wait for Universal Credit to come through, though we regularly hear of 10-weeks being a more realistic timeframe.

Applying for benefits relies on you having a device, an internet connection, enough electricity on the meter, and the mental capacity to work through a hugely detailed online form - things many of our guests struggle with, hence 8 weeks can easily become several months.

If you are living on the margins and just about keeping up with your bills, two months or more with no income is devastating. Many of our guests were just about managing to keep their heads above water until this winter when ‘heat or eat’ became a daily dilemma for many of them. Throw in one unexpected bill (new shoes for the kids, a winter coat because last year's doesn’t fit, or the washing machine breaks) and that can be the final straw.

Constantly worrying about managing to feed your family and keep a roof over your head is exhausting. If we had a benefits system that was fit for purpose, and sufficient pay for secure work, people would have more time, space, and energy to address their circumstances.

Much of our focus at S6 Foodbank is on our ‘More Than Food’ provision. While hunger drives people to access our foodbank network, often it isn’t the underlying issue. We support people with a range of issues, including their benefits, housing (thanks to a worker from Shelter), and debt, along with signposting to many other services that exist in the city. We help people to take small steps each day to reduce their need to access our support.

Our aim is a future with no foodbanks, yet sadly we’ve never been more needed.