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Stowmarket foodbank steels itself for impact of benefit changes

Becky Mapley, Mike Smith, Dave Cotton, Hazel Smith and Caroline Davies from Stowmarket and Area Foodbank
Becky Mapley, Mike Smith, Dave Cotton, Hazel Smith and Caroline Davies from Stowmarket and Area Foodbank

Stowmarket foodbank saw demand for food reach an ‘all time high’ during the first half of this year.

According to Mike Smith, who runs Stowmarket and Area Food Bank, the number of people referred to the service was up by 25 per cent between January and June, with 375 food parcels handed out compared with 300 last year.

The foodbank, based at the community centre, Hillside, has issued an appeal to help meet demand this Christmas.

“The first half of the year was our toughest yet with demand at an all time high, meaning we had to put out urgent appeals,” said Mr Smith.

“People have been very generous during the harvest period but will still need at least another three tonnes of food to get us through.

“Universal Credit is the number one reason people give for their need and I am in no doubt, demand will grow again as more and more people have to wait six to eight weeks for money.”

The foodbank, run by the New Life Family Church, is this month marking its fifth anniversary.

During 2016, it delivered 800 food parcels in Stowmarket, Needham Market and surrounding villages, feeding 50 families per month, representing 22.6 tonnes of food, and 2,000 people.

In Suffolk, 83,000 are said to be living below the poverty line.

“There is still a stigma attached for many people using foodbanks even though they are having a hard time,” said Mr Smith.

“We have seen people weep with emotion when we arrive.”

People are referred to the foodbank from 35 different agencies including the CAB, police, NHS and social workers.

Universal Credit has been live in Stowmarket for the last year but has only applied to people with no children, disabilities or housing costs. The full version will be rolled out in February 2018 which means all new claimants, or those with changes in circumstances, will need to apply.

Cllr Dave Muller, Mayor of Stowmarket, said: “I praise the work of the foodbank and the dedication of volunteers, in how they have coped and continue to cope with the increasing demand for food parcels.

Jo Churchill MP said: “These figures are increasingly concerning and if not addressed, will present a challenge to the opportunities Universal Credit can deliver.

“These emerging challenges, I will immediately raise with the Department for Work and Pensions.”

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