“The money doesn’t last a week”
We visited the Parson Cross Initiative at Mount Tabor Church in Sheffield one Friday morning, and spoke to eight people who have had cause to use the centre’s food bank. Here, Tina talks of holiday hunger, missing meals, and the tightening grip of the benefits freeze.
This is my second week here, but I’ve been to a different food bank as well before.
What brought me here? Mainly low income and debt really, and not being able to afford to feed my family for the full week. The benefits I get just don’t cover a full week’s food and bills. I only get £75 every two weeks in income support, because it has been reduced down due to a social fund loan I had. And I get £100 a week child tax credits, and £34 a week in child benefit. And that is for myself and two children, who are one and a half, and eight. I’ve an older daughter as well, and when she comes I provide for her as well. She’s 22.
They money doesn’t last a week. By the time I have the gas and electric taken off, it doesn’t go far at all. There’s the TV licence, and £10 a week for rent, and water.
They need to stop the benefit cuts I think. They put the minimum wage up but everything else goes up more at the same time, and prices are higher, and benefits aren’t. We do try to shop about for cheaper deals but the money’s not lasting.
I was working before my youngest was born but if I was working now I would not have any more because I would still have all the bills and I’d also have to pay child care on top of that. And everywhere expects you to have internet to apply for things, but what if you cannot get to a local library?
The first time I came to the food bank was last year. Christians Against Poverty gave me a referral because I’m trying to work with their debt management course. My health visitor referred me to them and they are useful – I wouldn’t have known about the food bank if I didn’t go there, and they also run a clothing bank and a fuel bank, for putting some gas and electric on the meter.
It was daunting coming to the food bank. I was quite scared. I thought ‘what will they think of me’, and I didn’t know any of the people in there. I panicked at first but I was surprised, they were really friendly and they did not judge me. They ask if you want tea or coffee, which cereal, beans or pasta – but I’m not picky; I would take anything.
I don’t think a lot of people and politicians know what it is like. They get paid wages way higher than anybody here gets.
When it’s harder is in the holidays. You get free meals at school so when kids are off school, you have to provide a meal. It would help having something for the holidays. For days out, there’s very little that isn’t expensive to do.
The council do two types of loans but to apply for them you have to be in severe distress. You basically have to have had you house burn down or be flooded, and the application is long. I applied twice and got rejected twice. Once was coming up to Christmas and I had no money and I thought ‘what could I do?’, but they said I did not qualify as an emergency even when I told them about my depression and diabetes. The other time was in the summer holidays when I was really struggling.
I often miss meals. I’d say twice a week I miss meals so the kids can have enough. I never buy new clothes for myself, just little things from charity shops. I really needed a new coat, and it was £7 from a charity shop and that nearly killed me, but if you buy cheap clothes new they don’t last.
The big thing that could help me is stop the benefits freeze, even if it’s giving us a bit more in food vouchers.
The bigger picture
Tina was one of eight people we spoke to on a recent visit to the Parson Cross Initiative, which works with community groups and churches in its part of Sheffield to help meet local needs. The project grew from, and is based at, Mount Tabor Methodist Church. You can read the others here:
What would it mean for your church, or for the church as a whole, to become a church of the poor? We researched this in 2016, and published this report.
Tina and the others who we interviewed spoke about hunger, and the various factors that led to them and their families becoming trapped in poverty. Tina talks about the impact of the benefits freeze. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last year projected that the freeze would mean an extra 500,000 people being swept into poverty by 2020, but identified alternative Government actions that could protect families from that rising tide.
Issues such as holiday hunger, benefit delays, loss of work and income are widespread. Stories like Tina’s have helped to shape the End Hunger UK campaign, with which we are involved. Tragically, Tina is far from alone in missing meals. A recent YouGov poll found one in four parents had missed meals, with one in eight going without food for a whole day.
The campaign sets out nine potential Government policies, all of which would help to reduce hunger and poverty, all of which are based on the real experiences of people like Tina. Please take a few moments to look at those nine ideas, to contact local groups working to alleviate poverty in your area, and to speak to your MP to ask them to help end hunger.