April 21 2014 Latest news:
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Norwich Foodbank will feed 8,000 people this year, and 10,000 next year, using food donated solely by the public. But should the city be proud of its generosity or ashamed at the food poverty that demands it? MARK SHIELDS reports.
Take your food donations to the places listed below or to our head offices in Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich.
You can make cash donations online at http://localgiving.com/charity/norwichfoodbank
For every donation up to £10, Local Giving will match it and claim Gift Aid (where applicable) – so your first £10 means £22.50 for people where you live. The money will be split between foodbanks according to demand.
Unit 14, Henderson Industrial Units, Ivy Road, Norwich
Methodist Church Hall, Corner of Holt Road & Hall Road, Cromer NR27 9DT
Gunton Baptist Church, Montgomery Avenue, Lowestoft, Suffolk NR32 4DZ.
Gorleston Baptist Church, Lowestoft Road, Gorleston NR31 6LY.
5 St Anns Fort, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, PE30 1QS
Wellspring Family Centre, 35 Neatherd Road, Dereham, Norfolk NR19 2AE
Bishop’s School Arts Centre (Abbey Estate), Canterbury Way, Thetford IP24 1EB
0844 288 9618
DC3 Vinces Road, Diss, Norfolk IP22 4HG.
0845 269 1078
Wisbech Baptist Church, Hill Street, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire PE13 1BA
Most company bosses would be rubbing their hands if their businesses had seen the growth that Norwich Foodbank has in the past three years.
When it opened in 2010, its two distribution centres served 33 people; three years later, there are 11 distribution centres in the city, which together fed 766 last month alone.
The city foodbank was the first to be set up by the Trussell Trust in the county; now there are nine in Norfolk, Fenland and Waveney.
But project manager Grant Habershon is the first to admit it is no cause for celebration.
“We are probably an organisation that everyone would be happy to see go out of business,” he said.
To see the shelves of the charity’s Norwich warehouse stacked with public donations demonstrates the scale of the response – but also begs the question: why do we need these foodbanks?
Mr Habershon said there had always been a need, but that economic conditions had seen demand soar – in particular since benefit changes came into force in April.
“There will always be people who have a sudden change of circumstances and will need help before the state safety net comes into operation.
“Previously people had a safety net, but the recession means that number has gone down: if that person has a crisis, they have nothing to fall back on.
“Combined with things like the bedroom tax, the economic crisis and the cost of living going up, people have less to fall back on.”
In a city like Norwich, which has traditionally had pockets of great need and where four out of 10 children live in poverty, the effects have been stark.
“They’ve had to cut and cut and cut and they’ve used their reserves: now they have nothing left to fall back on if they get a sudden bill or expense. That’s when they turn to us,” said Mr Habershon.
Nearly 40% of Norwich Foodbank’s referrals come as a cause of benefit delays, and Norwich’s two MPs have taken the matter up with the Department for Work and Pensions to speed the process up.
The foodbank is not intended to top up welfare – if someone is receiving all their benefits, they must learn to live within their means, says the charity.
It also restricts users to three parcels to prevent dependency, and works with care agencies to make sure people have the tools to sort their long-term problems.
Describing foodbanks as a “sticking plaster”, Alan Waters, deputy leader of Norwich City Council, said it was time for a debate over their rise – and to tackle root causes such as poorly-paid jobs and benefit reductions.
“If you were a cynic, you could say the government is able to put through swingeing cuts and changes to employment rights and social security because there’s a safety net provided by the generosity of local people in Norwich and beyond,” he said.
Mr Waters said the authority was helping through maintaining council tax reduction, offering money advice, making its housing energy efficient, and initiatives such as the energy-bill Switch and Save and benefits take-up schemes.
He added: “I hope people will show their generosity at Christmas, but also send a message to our local MPs that this isn’t sustainable. The government needs to make sure people get the support they need in the long term.”
Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said she had “endless admiration” for Norwich Foodbank and its volunteers, but that tackling benefit delays could reduce demand at source.
“I have had meetings to get it improved and found out why there are delays to people getting their rightful benefits,” she said.
However, she warned against turning the foodbank cause into “a political football”, saying that increasing demand was not solely down to benefit cuts and insisting reform was necessary.
She said: “I have supported welfare reform in Parliament because it’s right for the taxpayer and it’s right for those who can work to do so.”
Norwich South MP Simon Wright echoed the concerns at “unacceptable” benefit delays, and encouraged people to back the Norwich Evening News’s appeal for donations.
He said April benefit reforms alone could not be blamed for rising demand, and pointed to state pension and income tax changes which had alleviated some pressure on household finances.
He added: “The foodbank does a superb job, but nonetheless they are there to serve people who are in very difficult circumstances.
“We need to help people not get into those circumstances and, when they do, to get out of them as soon as possible.”