An urgent SOS has gone out for emergency foodbank supplies as Preston prepares for the introduction of Universal Credit.
The controversial changes to the benefit system are due to be implemented in Preston, Chorley and Leyland in July.
One charity worker at the Salvation Army foodbank in Preston predicted a “perfect storm” next month as the introduction of Universal Credit coincides with the start of the school holidays, while shelves are already bare at the city’s foodbank.
“We are desperate,” said Natalie Thomas at the Salvation Army centre in Harrington Street.
“It is probably the worst situation we have ever been in. But it is likely to get even worse in July with Universal Credit and the holidays causing even more hardship. I don’t know how we will get through it without some urgent help.”
Changes in the benefit system have hit people hard in other areas of the UK where the new system has already been implemented.
Claimants have been left without cash for six weeks – sometimes even longer – forcing more to seek handouts from charities.
Nationally research by the Trussell Trust, Britain’s largest network of foodbanks, has shown use has risen by 52 per cent in the 12 months following Universal Credit being introduced, compared with just 13 per cent in places where the old benefits system is still in operation.
Preston’s largest foodbank hands out up to 450 parcels a month when the need is greatest.
But this week staff say they don’t have enough supplies to fill even a handful.
“We’re out of almost everything,” said Natalie.
“We’re down to our last few cans and we really are struggling.
“The only thing we have plenty of is dry pasta. That’s it. We always seem to have a difficult time from April through to September, but not as bad as this.”
Universal Credit, which combines all types of welfare benefits into one payment, has been under attack since it was first introduced as in a small number of “pathfinder” areas in the North West.
Some new claimants are already receiving it in Central Lancashire, although the bulk in Preston, Leyland and Chorley will be switching in July as the system is introduced in 60 more JobCentre areas as part of the Government’s gradual roll-out programme.
Coming, as it does, at a time when many families struggle to feed their children during the long school holidays, the foodbanks locally expect an unprecedented surge in demand.
“There’s a perfect storm gathering and we don’t know how we’re going to cope,” said Natalie.
“The situation is dire already and we are only in June. We have been giving out more food parcels since Universal Credit first came in. But most aren’t on it yet and, once it is rolled out fully across Preston, it will only make things worse.”
The Salvation Army refuge was hit by a huge rise in demand around the same time last summer – but nothing on this scale.
In June 2017 the first switch-overs to Universal Credit left some of those early claimants without cash for up to eight weeks, forcing them to seek emergency help from the foodbank.
At the time Claire Bowerman, the centre co-ordinator, revealed she had seen demand for food parcels rise 20-fold in less than six years working with the charity.
“In 2011 we handed out 20 or 30 bags a month, now we fill around 450,” she said. “The problem started to bite around the start of April – the same time wholesale changes to UK benefits were introduced.”
In Chorley the LivingWaters foodbank is currently handing out 100 parcels a month. Staff there said Universal Credit was just one of the issues causing increased hardship.
“We have had more demand this year than in previous years,” said a spokesperson.
“And many of the cases we get are benefit related, although it’s not all down to Universal Credit.”
Last summer Chorley ran a successful feeding programme for schoolchildren during the holidays, backed by the council.
This year even more food clubs are expected to be set up.
And in Preston the city council has allocated almost £22,000 to make sure children will not go hungry during the holidays because they miss out on a free school lunch.
How you can help
The Salvation Army Foodbank in Preston has all-but run out due to an unprecedented demand.
Staff have now issued a desperate appeal for help to keep the service going with a perfect storm brewing next month.
Stocks of non-perishable foods - tins, packets and dried goods - are in urgent need of replenishment if the charity is to provide the needy with up to 450 parcels every four weeks.
“We need virtually everything,” said Natalie Thomas. “We really are struggling.”
Amongst the items urgently needed are: Tins of spaghetti, tomatoes, soup, beans, fish, vegetables, fruit, rice pudding and custard.
Jars of sauces, Long Life milk, sugar, tea bags, coffee, cereal, cordial, fruit juice, biscuits, sweets, jams and spreads.
Toiletries, nappies, washing up liquid, washing powder, toilet rolls, baby food and pet food.
Supplies can be dropped off at the Salvation Army Centre in Harrington Street, Preston PR1 7BN (between Moor Lane and Adelphi Street).
Or call 01772 555425, or email at email@example.com