Foodbank usage in the Lancaster district has reached record levels once again.
In February, the number of food parcels being handed out to “desperate” people in the Lancaster and Morecambe area almost doubled.
Volunteers at the pioneering Morecambe Bay Foodbank, part of the Trussell Trust franchise, say that things are getting worse, and changes to the benefits system is mostly to blame.
Food bank manager Annette Smith said the initial plan in 2012 was to run the food bank for five years, but she is now looking at a 10 year plan in order to meet the growing need.
Roger Berridge, who has volunteered at the foodbank in Green Street for the last five years, said the transition to Universal Credit is forcing people into situations where they don’t receive any income.
Some go without any income at all for up to seven weeks.
He said: “Just lately it’s been crazy. Some people want to come in, get a bag, and go because they’re so embarassed, others are in great distress.
“I’ve dealt with several people crying because they’re so humiliated about coming here, but they’ve got family to feed.
“It’s distressing to see people like that. You think you’ll get used to it but you don’t.”
One of Roger’s roles is to listen to people when they attend the foodbank to collect food parcels.
“I greet clients when they come in, check their vouchers, and see what else they need,” he said.
“I’ll help them with the fresh produce that comes in, and just chat while the food is being prepared.”
Roger said a lot of the need is to do with the introduction of Universal Credit.
“There’s no income during the transition,” he said.
“There’s a lot of people that have lost jobs.
“I spoke to a girl who went in to work one morning and they said we don’t need you anymore. She has five children.
“I don’t think people can look long term.
“Some of our clients have jobs, lots of them on zero-hours contracts.
“Their car breaks down, washing machine stops working - people are getting deeper and deeper into debt.”
Roger said he didn’t think Universal Credit would sort the foodbank issue out.
He said: “The only thing that will sort this is creating new jobs.
“People are still out of work, despite saying they’d literally do anything.
“Others are one pay check away from desperation.
“We get mechanics, electricians, they just can’t find work. But most people who come in have serious problems. To say they’re sponging is just nonsense.
“We try and ease their situation, but things are getting worse. Certainly since before Christmas, which I put down to Universal Credit.”
Annette said that the food bank is “just a sticking plaster”, and that the causes of the increase in use need to be addressed.
What started out as a small operation inside the church in Green Street, has now pretty much taken over the space on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“We started with around six volunteers, and we now have 40 on the books.
“We had a five year plan to parachute in and then back out again, but that has gone out of the window and we’re now looking at a 10 year plan, which is not good.
“One of the primary reasons why people are coming is due to benefit changes.
“What people are telling us is that any changes made to their benefits means they are automatically stopped. It’s this transfer period of going on to Universal Credit, but we think Universal Credit will not help to remove the food banks.
“Rising prices mean people cannot afford to live.
“Things are getting more expensive, people are living in rented properties, they pay gas and electricity on a meter, which is more expensive.
“Pay day loans, which then spiral out of control, is another major issue.
“When people do get their money, they’ve got this huge added debt.
“People are not being taught at school the very basics in budgeting their money.
“At the same time services are being cut, and one of our concerns is access to vouchers.
“The worrying thing is how much poverty is hidden, how many people are not coming forward?
“I see us as the tip of the iceberg, there are still a lot of people that won’t come forward.”
Annette said the foodbank welcomed donations of all kind, but in particular at the moment there is a need for shampoo, toothbrushes and feminine hygiene products.
Cash donations are also needed to cover the cost of petrol for the van, new crates, gas, electricity and telephones.
For more information visit https://morecambebay.foodbank.org.uk.