Hunger here has trebled in 2019. Let’s talk about compassion and community.

Volunteers at this food bank have provided 1,000 food parcels in a month for the first time

WHERE does it stop?

That’s what staff and volunteers at the Parson Cross Initiative (PXI) in north Sheffield are forever wondering these days.

The rising tide of poverty in their community is catching more and more people, dragging them into debt and difficulty, and increasingly, people are turning to the PXI food bank for urgent lifelines.

How does it stop?

We all know it shouldn’t be like this. We all believe in a welfare system that enables people to keep their head above water during times of crisis. But food banks have become an increasingly immovable part of communities, because the system isn’t working properly and urgently needs to be redesigned.

We’ve heard from many people at PXI in the past two years, some of them time and again. Without exception, people have been swept into poverty because their incomes simply don’t cover their essential costs.

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Richard was coping until a sanction left him with nowhere else to turn. For Keith, who had applied for 500 jobs, the benefits freeze meant his costs had begun to outstrip his income. Tina’s weekly income simply didn’t cover her family’s food costs and bills. Hollie, mum of a young child, came to the project when a benefit change left her penniless for five weeks. Lisa’s benefits were wrongly reduced, sending her into crisis, but PXI provided food, community and ongoing support.

More and more people have been turning to PXI for help in the past 12 months though, as they find themselves being swept into poverty.

In October 2018, the food bank provided 160 food parcels, but in October 2019 the figure was 927. In November 2018, they provided 321, but as November 2019 came to a close, they reached 1,100. It was the first time they had passed the 1,000 figure in a month.

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In all of 2018, there were 2,740 parcels. This year, that figure has reached 7,800 with a month still to go.

Why such a steep rise? Universal Credit rolled out in Sheffield at the beginning of this year, and PXI volunteer Nick Waterfield says that has been a big factor. A year ago, ahead of the roll-out, they were urgently making contingency plans, but demand has risen even more steeply than their worst-case scenario.

Whoever forms the new government, they should work to redesigning the economy so that the labour market and welfare systems are fit for purpose, ensuring that incomes are sufficient to meet people’s essential costs.

But what about beyond that? We asked Nick how he hoped things might change in the coming decade – whether the 2020s might end more brightly than they begin in his community and, if so… how?

He accepts that they are now a big part of many people’s lives, but wishes the support they provide was not necessitated by such severe crisis. He wishes society would seek more concertedly a new unity, and realise that one person’s social welfare is dependent on the next’s.

“We need hope for the future and we need a good, sensible vision about interdependency, compassion and empathy,” he says. “A starting point for that would be trying to be in conversations with each other, even the difficult conversations, maybe with people we don’t agree with at this stage, to try to come to an understanding about what that interdependence looks like. It isn’t about individualisation; it’s about a coming together.

“How do we join together as society? How do we join together as communities and do away with fragmentation? The first step to doing away with that fragmentation is let’s stop seeing ourselves as simply individuals and let’s start to re-envisage and reimagine and take part in being community together.”

  • What are your hopes for the 2020s? How would you like your community to change – and what needs to happen to make that change possible? If you’d like to share your ideas and stories, email gavin@church-poverty.org.uk

 

 

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