Number of families using Sid Valley food bank doubles, prompting council action

Cathy Gardner

Cathy Gardner - Credit: Archant

The number of people using food banks in the Sid Valley has more than doubled in the last six months.

The Sid Valley Food Bank’s co-ordinator Andie Milne told East Devon councillors on Wednesday night of the alarming numbers of people and the stark rise in numbers of people they are seeing.

She said six months ago, they were dealing with 15 families a week, but last week, more than 30 families came through their doors, including 36 children.

Andie added that last week they helped a family from Axminster as there was no help available in the east of the county. She also raised concerns over what would happen to the emergency food bags at Knowle when the council move to Honiton in early in 2019.

Her comments came prior to the full council unanimously supporting a motion to bring two reports forward that put the spotlight on the impact of benefit changes, cuts and low wages on struggling families. The aim of the motion was to bring the reports’ findings to the council’s attention, so it could look at whether more support needed to be given to those affected by the roll-out of Universal Credit, homelessness prevention and food banks.

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Councillor Cathy Gardner, who proposed the motion, said: “Most of us are doing okay and are comfortable, some are doing extremely well, but some are struggling, and we have a civic duty to see if we can do more. I would be horrified to learn if a child suffered as we failed to something in some way to help.

“I am not criticising the council or the hard work that our officers do to help people but simply to ask if there is anything more that we could do, as we know that people are struggling with Universal Credit. If the report says it is all perfect, then we can rest easy, but I want the report to come forward so we can be seen as outstanding, caring and vigilant.”

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Cllr Marianne Rixson added that some people are being forced to use food banks just to make ends meet, even though they are in employment.

Cllr Eleanor Rylance said that the national picture showed there were 2.5million people living just 10 per cent above the poverty line. She added: “A small reversal of the economy could put 2.5million people below the poverty line in weeks. We all know of people who are struggling and other who could very soon be struggling.”

Conservative councillor Mike Allen thanked Cllr Gardner for bringing the motion forward. He said: “If you work in a food bank, you get to understand how little accidents or small things can trip someone into a poverty - be it a divorce or splitting up with a partner, or a jobs loss, which leads to a massive hole in your income and you cannot afford what you used to take for granted.”

Cllr Jill Elson, who is responsible for sustainable homes and communities, said that the council worked very closely with food banks across the district and that council staff were currently co-located in the job centres in Exmouth and Honiton to get the 1,013 people in East Devon claiming Universal Credit and were going the extra mile to help them, be it by helping them fill in the forms or giving them food bank credits.

She added that if someone comes to a food bank two weeks in a row, they are referred to the Citizens Advice team who can provide further assistance.

And Cllr Pauline Stott said that every council tenant who is receiving Universal Credit was visited by council staff prior to its implementation.

The motion, the last ever to be discussed at the Knowle in Sidmouth as the council will have moved into its new Honiton HQ by the time of the February 27 meeting, was unanimously approved.

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