“The number of people using food banks in the Sid Valley has more than doubled in the last six months.
The Sid Valley Food Bank’s co-ordinator Andie Milne told East Devon councillors on Wednesday night of the alarming numbers of people and the stark rise in numbers of people they are seeing.
She said that six months ago, they were dealing with 15 families a week, but last week, more than 30 families came through their doors, with 36 children being helped.
And she added that last week they helped a family from Axminster as there was no help available in the East of the county for them, and raised concern over what would happen to the emergency food bags located at the council’s Knowle HQ, that sometimes are refilled four times a week, when the council offices move to Honiton early in 2019.
Her comments came prior to the full council unanimously supporting a motion brought forward by Cllr Cathy Gardner, of East Devon Alliance, calling for a report on the potential impacts of benefits changes and spending cuts on people in East Devon and whether there was a need for further support from the council in supporting the roll-out of Universal Credit, homelessness prevention or for local food banks.
Proposing her motion, Cllr Gardner said: “Most of us are doing okay and are comfortable, some are doing extremely well, but some are struggling, and we have a civic duty to see if we can do more. I would be horrified to learn if a child suffered as we failed to something in some way to help.
“I am not criticising the council or the hard work that our officers do to help people but simply to ask if there is anything more that we could do, as we know that people are struggling with Universal Credit.
“If the report says it is all perfect, then we can rest easy, but I want the report to come forward so we can be seen as outstanding, caring and vigilant.”
Cllr Marianne Rixson, supporting the motion, added that some people are being forced to use food banks just to make ends meet, even though they are in employment.
Cllr Eleanor Rylance said that the national picture showed there were 2.5m people living just 10 per cent above the poverty line. She added: “A small reversal of the economy could put 2.5m people below the poverty line in weeks. We all know of people who are struggling and other who could very soon be struggling.”
The motion received unanimous support from across the council chamber, with Conservative councillor Mike Allen said that he really liked the motion and thanked Cllr Gardner for bringing it forward.
He said: “If you work in a food bank, you get to understand how little accidents or small things can trip someone into a poverty – be it a divorce or splitting up with a partner, or a jobs loss, which leads to a massive hole in your income and you cannot afford what you used to take for granted.”
Cllr Jill Elson, portfolio holder for sustainable homes and communities, said that the council worked very closely with food banks across the district and that council staff were currently co-located in the job centres in Exmouth and Honiton to get the 1,013 people in East Devon claiming Universal Credit and were going the extra mile to help them, be it by helping them fill in the forms or giving them food bank credits.”