Wandsworth Foodbank Continues To Provide Essential Safety Net

Covid-19 crisis leaving more and more people short

Volunteer Sammy delivers emergency food across Wandsworth borough
Volunteer Sammy delivers emergency food across Wandsworth borough

The coronavirus crisis left one Londoner living on just one meal a day after he lost his job. ‘Rob’ applied for Universal Credit, but it wasn’t enough to meet the rent for his one-bed flat. And he started to go hungry.

“I’ve worked for nearly 30 years and never asked for a penny in my life. But my income is now nowhere near my living needs and it is pretty distressing. To realise that I am ludicrously short was a massive eye opener,” he said.

“During lockdown I had to skip two meals a day to make it last. It definitely increased my anxiety. I cannot afford my rent, council tax or my bills. They are all on hold. I cycle to save costs.

“The benefits I receive don’t cover basic rent for private accommodation in London. The rent is capped and the housing benefit is 20 per cent short of the one-bed-flat rent. I get £1,280 and my rent is £1,370, so it is not even close.”

Thankfully, ‘Rob’ was referred to Wandsworth Foodbank to get some much needed food, but his struggle highlights the difficult situation many people are left in across the country as the fallout of the coronavirus crisis starts to hit.

Foodbank Manager Dan Frith (Left) with vicar Martyn Layzell from St Mark's Battersea
Foodbank Manager Dan Frith (Left) with vicar Martyn Layzell from St Mark's Battersea

Sarah Chapman is a volunteer and the policy and communications manager at Wandsworth Foodbank.

She says they are helping more people than ever as people continue to lose jobs or have their hours cut due to the impact of the pandemic. Many are not given sick pay, and find that benefits do not cover the cost of essentials.

Lone parents find themselves having to cut down their hours because their children are at home and need home schooling. Others are finding it impossible to get a job.

Food parcels ready for collection at St. Mark's Church
Food parcels ready for collection at St. Mark's Church. Picture: Wandsworth Foodbank

Some are particularly vulnerable as they have no recourse to public funds as part of their visa restrictions – meaning that if work stops, even though they have been paying taxes, they are not allowed to claim any benefits.

“The spikes on our horizon are if the government don’t extend the extra £20 a week for Universal Credit, or when furlough ends – those are the kind of cliff edges that we fear we will then see another spike for the foodbank,” she said.

At the moment the foodbank is operating a home delivery service, with teams going out every day to deliver to up to 130 households across the borough. More than 1,000 people a month are receiving emergency food aid from the foodbank at the moment.

These include people like Mary and Jo. ‘Mary’ is in her 50s and was working in a doctor’s surgery last year when she developed symptoms of coronavirus. She was not paid for the month of her illness and had to turn to the foodbank for help.

She said, “Usually when you’re off you get sick pay. I got no sick pay. I’ve been in the surgery for three years but they paid me nothing. My telephone was cut off and I couldn’t pay any of my bills. I sent my manager an email, but she just answered saying she will look into it and get back to me.

“They told me to apply for Universal Credit, but when I tried to apply for it, they said it was only for a month and so it wasn’t worth it. So I was off work for a month, and I didn’t receive any benefits in that time.

“Overall I needed more financial help and easier access to food. If it wasn’t for the foodbank, I don’t know what I would have done.”

‘Jo’ lives in private rented accommodation with her family.

Both she and her husband have struggled to find work due to the impact of coronavirus and delays to their Universal Credit application meant she was referred to the foodbank in an emergency.

“The foodbank advice project was so helpful – they advised me about the Universal Credit error and suggested that I go to Wandsworth council and ask for a discretionary housing payment. I received some money from the council for rent, and without that I would have been in real trouble,” she said.

Sarah says she dreams for the day when everyone has enough income for food and essentials so that emergency food aid is a thing of the past in this country. But for now, the team is here to help those who need it.

“It’s an absolute privilege to speak to people and for them to know that they’re not alone and there are people who care about them,” said Sarah.

“We always say, it’s not just us that care about you, it’s people in the community giving this food, because they know people are having a hard time and they care about it.

“I think for all of us doing the calls it is absolutely heart-breaking at times. But that’s nothing compared to what the people who are needing our help are experiencing.

“It is just absolutely brilliant to be able to try and help in any way we can and brilliant that we have our food bank advice project to help people with that kind of advice and case work to try and resolve difficult things.

“We help make sure people are getting all the benefits they’re entitled to, and that they are being treated fairly by employers, or getting help so that they’re not going to lose their home or get help to reduce rent arrears.

“It is just telling people about the help that is out there, like the council’s discretionary social fund.

“It’s just a joy to speak to people. Even today we had such a lovely message from someone who just texted to say thank you for the help for his family. But also, he wanted to know how can he help in terms of time and skills.

“We hear that all the time. When we ask people if they need anything else, because we do things like toiletries as well, many say ‘no, make sure there’s enough for other people,’ even when they are in that difficulty.

“People are thinking of others all the time and wanting to make sure if they have some, there will still be enough for someone else.”

To donate to Wandsworth Foodbank click here

Sian Bayley - Local Democracy Reporter