Council denies Labour's blame on the policies on access to emergency financial help
A new report on foodbank usage in Wandsworth Borough states that nearly 5,000 people in the area, including over 1,700 children, used foodbanks - an increase of 16% over the last year. This rise is nearly three times higher than the increase recorded nationally and comes on top of a rise of 25% the year before.
Foodbank usage growing strongly
The figures were released by the Wandsworth Foodbank in their Hunger and Poverty in Wandsworth Report 2016-17. Foodbanks appeared for the first time in Wandsworth in 2013 since which time food bank use in the borough has increased each year. This year, according to the Wandsworth Foobank which runs the borough’s foodbanks “more people were referred because of low income than ever before – accounting for 28% of all crisis referrals”. The report also shows that an increasing number of households were referred to the foodbank on five or more occasions suggesting that “more people are struggling in food poverty for longer”.
Speaking at the launch of the annual report, its author, Sarah Chapman, said, “The time we see guests cry the most is when there are parents who don’t know how they’ll feed their children.” According to agencies who issue food vouchers 87% of parents had skipped meals so their children could eat.
According to Marsha de Cordova, the newly elected MP for Battersea: “Wandsworth – one of the UK’s richest boroughs - is seeing shocking increases in foodbank use compared to the rest of the country. This year foodbank use in the borough increased by three times the national rate of increase and last year foodbank use in the borough rose by 25% compared to a 4% increase across London as a whole. Clearly the safety net for Wandsworth’s most vulnerable residents is broken.”
According to the Wandsworth Foodbank, the principal causes of food poverty in Wandsworth last year were delays to benefit payments (39%), low income (28%), debt, illness, mental health issues, domestic violence and homelessness. The report also showed that food poverty leads to increased mental health problems and poorer physical health.
Commenting on the figures, Marsha de Cordova said, “What we are increasingly seeing is that those in work are not earning enough to meet essential living costs and feed their families. I find it striking and shocking that every ward in Wandsworth has seen referrals, even wards like Northcote which are among the most affluent in London. Not only are our most vulnerable people facing food crisis, but so too are those in work.”
In light of the fourth yearly increase in food bank use in Wandsworth, the Wandsworth Foobank is urging the government to improve the benefits system to “fix the gaps that cause hunger” and reconsider its policy on paying benefits in arrears. It is also calling on Wandsworth Council to “reconsider its policies” to ensure vulnerable residents have access to hardship payments when emergency financial help is needed. In February this year, Labour say that the majority Conservative Group at Wandsworth Council voted to remove the hardship payments for some Wandsworth residents struggling with housing costs.
Finance spokesman Cllr Guy Senior has responded to the claims saying, “True to form the Wandsworth Labour Party is showing its ignorance about the help and support we offer the borough’s most vulnerable residents.
“The council operates a £1.2 million discretionary housing fund which provides targeted help to the borough’s most vulnerable families who need additional financial support with their housing costs. Following the Government’s recent changes to the benefit cap the council reviewed the scheme and decided to give priority to local families with children. Childless households can still get support from this fund, subject to a case by case review. These changes, which only came into effect in in April, do not affect pensioners nor those in receipt of long term disability and caring benefits as these are not affected by the cap.
“We also have a second hardship fund, the £200,000 Wandsworth Discretionary Social Fund which provides crisis payments and care grants to people in need of emergency help, and can be used for a range of day to day needs including purchasing food if that’s what’s needed.”
June 21, 2017