SPECIAL REPORT: Bolton's food banks
FOOD banks have become the symbol of contemporary poverty in a recession hit Britain.
Similar services in Bolton such as the Urban Outreach project have been up and running for more than 10 years.
But the growing demand from struggling families has seen other voluntary groups step up to take action.
The Farnworth and Kearsley Foodbank was first set up in December, 2012, by volunteers at the Well Baptist Church and has fed a staggering 3,300 people in need since it opened.
The food bank — part of the national charity the Trussell Trust — operates on a referral basis with charities and agencies across Bolton handing out vouchers to people classed as ‘in crisis’ and unable to buy food for themselves.
These emergency supplies have been a lifeline for families but there are some critics of this service — including, allegedly, Iain Duncan Smith.
The Work and Pensions Secretary reportedly accused the Trussell Trust of “scaremongering” in December and criticised the "political messaging of your organisation", which "despite claiming to be non-partisan" had "repeatedly sought to link the growth in your network to welfare reform".
Whether the Trussell Trust has used the Government’s controversial welfare reforms to expand its network is up for debate, but there is no denying the increasing demand for food banks in Bolton.
Alex Malone has managed the Farnworth and Kearsley Foodbank for the past year and says the underoccupancy charge — the so called “bedroom tax” — and delays in benefit payments are the biggest cause of food poverty.
Debt is also big factor in families going hungry.
Mrs Malone said: “No-one expected the level of demand we have had for this service. We knew the statistics and how many children were living in poverty in Farnworth and Kearsley but we never expected to have the volume of people coming through our door. It has been overwhelming at times.
“We’ve seen people from all walks of life. I’m not surprised any more by the people who come in because when you work here, it really opens your eyes to the circumstances anyone can find themselves in.
“We had a big jump in July when the “bedroom tax” came in and since then it has just not quietened down. When it comes to benefits there are a lot gaps in the system, which means people can be without money they need. For example, new claimants can be waiting up to six weeks.”
Food bank user Claire Mellor, aged 23, from Farnworth, needed help after her third child was born seven weeks premature.
Not only did she have to care for her two other children, she also had to fund taxi’s to and from the neonatal unit at the Royal Bolton Hospital.
Ms Mellor said: “My baby was intensive care at the time so I was having to get to and from the hospital as well as seeing to my other children. I was breastfeeding my other baby too.
“When I was struggling to make ends meet social services gave me some vouchers for the food bank and really helped. They were also able to give me nappies. It’s things like that that really help people in my predicament.
“I was nervous about coming at first but they never judge you here.”
Another 53-year-old woman from Little Hulton, who wished to remain anonymous, added: “The first time I came here was when I was hit with the bedroom tax and the second was when my low income benefit money didn’t go into the bank.
“My mum and dad helped me out but they’re pensioners themselves and it’s really hard to go and ask.
“When you first come here, you’re at your lowest. I just felt down because if your money doesn’t go in, you’re down to your last penny and you’re stuck. Having that help with food really helps.”
Bolton at Home is one of the agencies who refer people to the food bank.
Lynne Pelly, who works for the debt advice team, said: “It is very busy in Farnworth and Kearsley in terms of referrals from our debt advice service. Quite often people are in rent arrears or their benefits have been stopped. I would say there has been an increase in the past year.”
For more information about the Farnworth and Kearsley Foodbank, go to: farnworthkearsley.foodbank.org.uk.
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