Plea issued after Sid Valley Food Bank shelves left bare

The bare shelves at Sid Valley Food Bank. Picture: Contributed

The bare shelves at Sid Valley Food Bank. Picture: Contributed - Credit: Archant

The shelves at Sidmouth Food Bank were left bare last week prompting urgent calls for help and donations from the cause’s co-ordinator.

The lifeline charity which helps to feed Sidmouth’s most needy was forced to spend its cash reserves to fill its emptying shelves, after it was inundated with people needing help.

The Sid Valley Food Bank’s co-ordinator Andie Milne contacted the Herald to issue a desperate plea for donations.

Last Friday (August 17), the food bank gave out a record 23 food parcels - helping 40 people, as well as the school children being helped through a holiday lunch programme. In the four weeks prior, they handed out 66 parcels, an average of 16.5 a week.

Andie said the number of people needing the charity’s help had skyrocketed this summer, compared to summer 2017.

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She added: “We’ve been really struggling. The demand has gone up tenfold from previous years.

“I think one of the main reasons is the benefit change - not just people who are sick or can’t find employment but people who work part-time and have help with their housing benefits. For instance if one week they work extra hours their benefits go down straight away but if the next week they can’t work as many hours it takes a lot longer to increase again.

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“A lot of companies don’t pay sick pay so people are struggling by on statutory sick pay when they are ill. Many people also went through months of stress, anxiety and poverty while their benefits were suspended and were reviewed. You do get it back but you go months with no money by which time you’re in a right mess after accumulating debt. These are hard-working people and families.

“The housing benefits in East Devon is capped at £400pcm - which is fine if you’re in social housing but if you privately rent it doesn’t cover the cost. There are a lot of people who need but can’t get social housing in East Devon because there is a shortage. It is impossible to find a privately rented property below £400pcm for a family.”

DWP spokesman said: “The reasons why people use food banks are complex, so it’s wrong to link a rise to any one cause. Universal Credit is working for the vast majority who claim it. We’ve already made significant improvements, such as 100 per cent advances which support people before their first payment, removing the seven waiting days, and two weeks’ extra housing support for claimants moving onto Universal Credit.

“We continue to spend around £90billion a year supporting people who need it, including those who are out of work or on a low income. Work is the best means of providing people with financial security, and with our welfare reforms people are moving into employment faster and staying there longer than under the old system.”

An East Devon District Council (EDDC) spokeswoman said: “It’s widely known that the demand for social housing far outstrips the supply both locally and nationally. EDDC has lobbied governments’ over many years to assist us in meeting the aspirations of households in need of good quality, affordable housing, suitable in size and location. A Decent Home for All is our overarching housing ambition as a local housing authority.

“From a housing benefit perspective, central government sets the rules on housing benefit and East Devon District Council administers it on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions. The amount of help that we can give to customers living in the private rented sector customers towards their rent is based on the local housing allowance which is set by the Valuation Office Agency.

“We can in certain circumstances give a discretionary housing payment where there is a shortfall between a customer’s housing benefit and their rent. However this is a limited fund and customers need to meet the criteria.”

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