Tyne & Wear

UK's biggest foodbank will help 'more than ever' over Christmas

John McCorry, CEO of West End Food Bank
Image caption John McCorry blamed Universal Credit for an increase in demand at the foodbank

The UK's largest foodbank has said it expects to provide meals for more people than ever over Christmas.

Newcastle's West End foodbank helps more than 46,000 people a year, more than any other in the country.

United Nations poverty envoy Philip Alston visited the site earlier this year as part of a fact-finding mission into austerity in Britain.

Volunteers said they expected to help more than 3,500 people during the month of December.

Image copyright Empics
Image caption The UN's Philip Alston visited the foodbank in November

Chief executive John McCorry said: "This time of year is extremely busy, but thankfully donations are picking up a bit.

"We've seen a lot of newcomers to the foodbank recently. Some of it is down to this particular area being involved in the introduction of Universal Credit, but we have also seen more asylum seekers and refugees. We have very diverse communities here.

"But if you're poor already it seems the system pushes you further into the margins.

"This time of year means there are so many commercial pressures on families that many on the edge need help to get through."

Image caption Foodbank volunteers often provide hot meals

During his visit to Newcastle Mr Alston said the government should not rely on organisations such as foodbanks "to keep people alive".

He said foodbanks provided a safety net so that people "don't quite starve". But he said it should be government that provided the safety net.

Mr McCorry added: "Most of those who need our help - about 85% - visit us five times or less. Most of the time it's relatively short-term help that people need to get through immediate problems.

"Universal Credit has caused problems because of the in-built waiting period for cash and the problems that raises with buying essentials like food and further issues with having to repay loans they are given by the government.

"We had one family here last week and the husband wouldn't even come in. He just stood outside the door. I suppose it was because of his dignity. It's a difficult thing to do to have to ask for help to feed your family."

The government said universal credit was "working for the vast majority of people".

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman added: "Universal Credit is a force for good, and everyone that visits a jobcentre from now on will be able to access a better, modern benefit with personalised support."

The foodbank opened in March 2013 and has two sites at the city's Church of the Venerable Bede and in Benwell Lane.

It hands out about 135 tonnes of food a year to an estimated 46,020 people - making it Britain's biggest based on those helped.

In November alone it issued parcels to 576 families with children, 279 couples and 325 single people.


Foodbanks

  • Foodbanks are charities that collect and distribute food to people in need
  • Normally, those needing help must be referred by a doctor, social worker, or Jobcentre staff, who give them a voucher to exchange for food
  • The food is donated by churches, businesses, community groups and individuals
  • The Trussell Trust - the main foodbank charity - gave out 61,500 food parcels in 2010-11
  • By 2016-17, the number handed out by the charity had risen to almost 1.2 million

Mr McCorry said: "As people who come to us are referred by other agencies like Citizen Advice or the NHS, we are hopefully on course to be able to meet our needs over Christmas.

"But it's looking like we will be faced with having to help more people than we ever have before.

"We will be open on 24 December and then again from 27 December.

"One of our most important goals is ensuring that we still have enough food coming in during January and February when there is still demand but donations ease off.

"It's vital for us to encourage corporate sponsors to help us out.

"We've been very lucky on that front recently and we do need to capitalise on that."


A typical food parcel

Image copyright West End foodbank
  • Tea or coffee
  • Sugar
  • Biscuits
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Soup
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Pasta sauce
  • Tinned beans
  • Tinned meat
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Tinned fruit
  • Source: The Trussell Trust

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