The bleak truth about foodbanks as they face their busiest Christmas ever

People using food banks have spoken out about how they desperately rely on them as they face their busiest Christmas ever.

The Trussell Trust, the charity that oversees a network of foodbanks across the country, is predicting record numbers will visit foodbanks this month.

New data released shows December was the busiest month for foodbanks last year – and that trend is expected to be mirrored this year.

And new figures showing demand in Birmingham, West Midlands has rocketed by 40%.

Jane Haynes , politics & people editor at Birmingham Live met the people in crisis who desperately rely on Sparkhill Foodbank in Birmingham.

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Young mum Courtney, 21, is one of hundreds people across Birmingham in the West Midlands to visit a foodbank.

She has to take three buses and travelled for more than an hour to get to Sparkhill Foodbank with her toddler son after running out of food.

Cash she set aside for food shopping has to be spent on electricity to heat the freezing cold council flat she lives in, after her little lad fell ill.

She said: "Usually I don't have the heating on much, it's electric heaters so it's really expensive. But my baby's not been well, so I've had to keep it on for longer than I should have."

She also revealed how the extra cost of feeding the meter has wiped her out of an extra £70, and she's got two weeks to wait until her next benefits payment.

“That’s all my money, gone. The flat is so cold. I was worried about my baby, he's been poorly. I couldn't let him get cold. I had to have the heating on constantly.

“If it was just me I’d manage, I don’t mind going without food. But I’ve got him to think of.”

Nadia is another person who is forced to visit a foodbank who is financially struggling.

Despite the extra expense, she runs a car so she can get her kids to three different schools across the other side of the city from her temporary home.

She said: "If I didn't drive them there is no way they would make it into school on time. It's the only way. Education is really important – I don't want them to miss school just because we are struggling."

She's also terrified that when the schools break up for Christmas her children will no longer get the free breakfasts and lunches provided at school.

"It's really hard. Some people have no idea," she said.

Sitting nearby is Tina. Pain is etched on her face as she confides that she’s too ashamed to let her teenage kids, aged 13 and 15, know that their food is coming from the foodbank.

“I don’t want them to know how bad it’s got, I don’t want them to worry. But I honestly don’t know what else to do, or where else to go. It’s so hard.”

Jodie is a young mum of six, and when her relationship with their dad broke down in October she found her benefits were slashed almost before her partner’s retreating back had disappeared.

“As soon as I told the benefits people what had happened that was it, my benefits were cut right back to a single claim. It’s a difference of £1,100 a month. I’ve still got the same bills, same rent, and arrears but no money.”

Her six kids, boys and girls aged four to 16, share a room in the two bed council flat the family have lived for a decade.

“We got the flat when we just had two kids. I’ve been asking for a bigger house but the council kept saying they have nothing and tell us to keep bidding.”

The are not alone in their despair. During a two hour visit to Sparkhill Foodbank, there’s a steady stream of people needing help.

There are hugs, smiles, prayers and sympathy, and tea by the load, as foodbank boss Les Allen, his assistant Emma Gowers and a team of dedicated volunteers work hard to raise spirits and give help.

They will feed around 150 people this week during the four hours they are open. There will be be more than this next week, people driven to seek help by the cold and Christmas.

“The colder it gets the more people we see,” says Les.

It's a despairing situation. The  Trussell Trust,  the charity that oversees a network of foodbanks across the country, is predicting record numbers will visit foodbanks this month.

New data released shows December was the busiest month for foodbanks last year – and that trend is expected to be mirrored this year. About a third of the crisis food given out is for children.

New figures from the Trust also reveal that need has gone up a staggering 40% in two years across the West Midlands.

The number of emergency parcels issued in the region in the six months from April to September was a staggering 73,600. In the same period in 2017, there were 52,500 issued.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said: "For too many people it’s becoming harder and harder to keep their heads above water – we can’t shy away from the changes that would make the real difference to end the need for food banks.

"We know issues with the benefits system, like the five week wait for Universal Credit and low payments that aren’t keeping pace with the cost of living, are pushing more people to need food banks than ever before."

The Trust is campaigning for Boris Johnson's new Government to make changes to ease the misery – by ending the five week wait for Universal Credit, raising benefit payments to meet the cost of living, and investing in local emergency support for people in crisis..

Sparkhill Foodbank is one of a small group under the  Narthex charity  umbrella. It's one of 22 around the city overseen by Trussell Trust, and is located in a warehouse on an industrial estate in Tyseley.

It's out of the way location doesn't put people off, though a few of those attending tell me the foodbanks in Cotteridge and Erdington are 'even busier.'

Les said: "We see all sorts of people in all sorts of situations. They may have lost their job, had unexpected bills, moved into temporary accommodation, or are facing a crisis of some kind. We provide emergency food for up to a week.

"We see a particular spike in December because it is colder, people need the heating on more, if they have kids they don't want them to miss out on Christmas, so people are trying to keep lots of balls in the air and sometimes one is dropped."

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