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Food Aid On The Increase: Ash Citizens Advice Bureau Reveals Reasons Through Its Own Foodbank

Published on: 27 Apr, 2015
Updated on: 28 Apr, 2015

A record number of food aid was given out in the UK over the past 12 months.

The Trussell Trust charity has released figures in which 1,084,604 three-day parcels were distributed, an increase of 19% on the previous 12-month period.

There are a number of food banks across the borough of Guildford, one of them being at Ash Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). Between October last year and March 2015 it distributed 23 family sized boxes of food, 33 single boxes and 22 vouchers for people to collect food parcels at other food bank outlets. Half of the vouchers that were handed out were in the month of December.

Staff at Ash CAB have conducted two in-depth surveys of people who have used its food bank, which is part of the Farnham Foodbank network that has a close association with the Trussell Trust.


Barbara Kemp and Valerie McNeilly of Ash Citizens Advice Bureau.

Barbara Kemp and Valerie McNeilly co-ordinate the food bank at Ash CAB. They liaise with the Farnham Foodbank who supply them with the single and family sized boxes of food. This initiative was set up by Christians from churches across the town.

Ash CAB has compiled a list of ‘reason for issue’ of the food parcels it has recently distributed, pointing out that the figures must be taken as a snapshot as they do not reflect the actual complexity or range of issues that clients face.

Reasons for issue:

Benefit changes 14 (people)

Benefits delays 18

Homeless 3

Low income 20

Debt 2

Sickness 2

Child holiday meal 1

Other 7

Barbara Kemp said: “As an example, a family on low income may experience extra pressures during school holidays when the children do not receive a free school meal during weekdays. The already stretched family budget has to find the meal instead. But is this recorded as ‘child holiday meal’ or ‘low income’? Or maybe it’s because of benefit changes or delays. Our recording mechanism only allows for ‘one reason’ for issue, even if there are several combined issues.

“Many of those we have helped use the food bank on more than one occasion – usually because the underlying problems they are experiencing, such as low income, are ongoing and not easily resolvable.”

People who use the food bank normally use a voucher system. They obtain vouchers from people or organisations who have identified that person or family having a need.

Today's CAB logo.

Today’s CAB logo.

For example, in the Ash area vouchers are issued by the community wardens and by schools and nurseries. Ash CAB can also issue vouchers and sometimes people take these and exchange them for food parcels at other local outlets such as The Chapel in Wharf Road, Ash Vale.

Barbara adds: “Most of the people we see are local. Although the food parcels come in cardboard boxes, we provide plastic bags [from well know food stores] for people to take their food home in. Many prefer that to carrying a large box that can obviously look like a food parcel.”

With the CAB’s wealth of experience in helping people and giving advice on a wide range of topics, when people come to collect food at Ash CAB, the staff always conduct an interview with them to find out their areas of need and to look at the underlying reasons for the situation they are in.

In many cases they can begin to help people resolve the problems they are facing.

Reasons for requiring food aid are varied. For example, a single man aged 30 with long-term mental health problems received a food parcel after his employment and support allowance (ESA) had been stopped as he had not attended a medical appointment. He reapplied for ESA but did not receive benefits until he had attended a Department of Work and Pensions medical.

A couple in their 40s, with two children, and who normally work full time required food aid as their income fell due to one being off sick and receiving statuary sick pay while the other’s working hours were reduced.

A further example is of a couple with health issues who were receiving ESA. One of them was in hospital in London and their partner used available income for fares to make visits, meaning there was no money left to buy food. At one time a person who was receiving benefits could have applied for a community care grant that would have helped to pay travel costs to visit a relative in hospital. That grant was abolished in April 2013.

Ash CAB points out that there are a number of factors that may be affecting the increased use of food banks in the UK. During the last 10 years real household income has remained relatively flat. However, fuel costs (electricity, gas, etc) have risen by 119%, transport costs have risen by 78%, water bills have gone up by 50% and food has increased on average by 44%.

The number of private renters in the UK has doubled over the past 10 years and Ash CAB says that locally private rents have increased dramatically. Staff believe that many households struggle to meet rent payments, noting that housing benefit is restricted to a maximum figure, which often does not cover the full contractual rent.

It also states that many jobs locally are either minimum wage – or zero hours contract – or both. That means a person working full time (40 hours per week) on minimum wage (£6.50 per hour) would take home £235 per week or £1,022 per month.

Delays in the payment of benefits are another reason why people seek help from food banks, particularly at Ash CAB. For example, a first application for benefit takes time for that claim to be processed. Benefits sometimes need to be adjusted due to someone’s circumstances changing, while someone changing from receiving jobseekers allowance to employment and support allowance may incur a delay in their money being paid. Sometimes clients fail to supply the authorities with the necessary information that they need to process the benefit which can delay payment.

As soon as the team at Ash CAB discover why the client is in crisis, they can do a number of things, ranging from a benefit check, budgeting advice and following up various authorities on their behalf to try to get help to improve their situation.

Ash CAB is based at the Ash Centre.

Ash CAB is based at the Ash Centre, Ash Hill Road.

The food bank at Ash CAB, Ash Hill Road, Ash GU12 5DP (at the rear of the Ash Centre), is open during its normal opening hours.

The centre offers drop-in sessions, Monday to Thursday, 9.30am to 1pm; appointments, Monday to Thursday, 1.30pm and 2.45pm; and a telephone advice service on Fridays between 10am and 1pm.

Telephone: 01252 315569.


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