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Posted on 11th January 2023

Involve Northwest: Offering expert advice within food projects

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This blog is written by Martin Richards, Welfare Service Manager at Involve Northwest. Martin offers advice appointments within food projects across Wirral. In this blog, Martin reflects on the drivers of need for food aid that he is seeing through his work.

The causation of Wirral public requiring food and support with energy from our foodbank and social supermarket network remained similar to previous quarters with the addition of the Cost-of-Living Crisis and unmanageable energy charges. Increased numbers of the public moving from legacy-based benefits containing addition premium allowances to Universal Credit remains a significant causation of hardship and causation of food poverty.

Bedroom Tax

Bedroom Tax is still a concern for clients who have to use funds that was previously set aside for their weekly food shop and energy supplies to make up their short fall in their rent. Increasing numbers of applications for discretionary housing benefit to help fund their short fall in the rent are being refused by WBC as a consequence of austerity, leaving a deficit in their available income.

The short fall in rent and lack of available income is forcing many people to move from what were their childhood homes to smaller properties. Sadly such forced moves triggers a change of circumstances and the claimant is forced to submit a claim for Universal Credit that in many cases provides the claimants with less available income and a delay in receiving the income.

Medical Assessment

Members of the public who are claiming sickness/disability related benefits attend face to face medical assessments. Many claimants will be refused payment following such assessments and will have to submit an appeal against the decision. While waiting for a date to attend tribunal, claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will have no choice but to claim Universal Credit and claimants of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will in many cases lose additional premiums on their sickness benefits along with their entitlement to PIP. Claimants have little option but to use the foodbank or social supermarket.

There has been a vast improvement in the numbers of appeals being reviewed by the Department for Work and Pensions and awarded prior to tribunal hearings    

Sadly after a lengthy prolonged wait high numbers of appellants win their appeal based on the information that was originally submitted at the beginning of their application for benefit and should never have had their financial support withdrawn. Whilst backdated monies are paid to claimants, the damage has been done.           

Mental Health

People with learning difficulties and mental health issues attend the foodbanks and social supermarkets on a regular basis. In some cases the inability to manage their own finances and correspondence leads to debt problems and loss of income. It is proving difficult to find the root causation of their difficulties as they have little understanding of the issues that have led to them requiring support from foodbank.

There is increased support available for mental health through other advice agencies. We now have the facility to refer direct into Talking Together Wirral for mental health therapies. This is having a significant positive impact on claimant’s general wellbeing.  

Substance Misuse

Substance misuse and those suffering from many different forms of addiction often present themselves at the foodbanks and social supermarkets under the influence of both prescribed and non-prescribed substances. Funding addictions to any substance will leave individuals with little revenue to purchase food and energy. It can also lead to rent arrears and ultimately eviction from their accommodation.

One gentleman explained that he has been in and out of prison for many years. He described his life as being trapped on a vicious circle. He builds up debts through using all available income to fund his substance misuse. He then turns to begging and crime to simply exist. He went on to add that Wirral foodbank and the people who provide this service have kept him alive and have given him hope.

Zero Hour Contracts

Zero-hour contracts are causing significant issues for people trying to maintain a consistent budget, this is adding to use in foodbanks. Zero-hour contracts are the causation of disruption within work benefits. It can lead to periods of none or low payments leaving the individuals without the means to provide food and energy for their families.

Warm Hubs

The unmanageable increase of energy is having a significant negative impact on all venues being used to support the community. Local authority has provided financial support for several venues, but the majority are having to obtain additional revenue to remain open and support those most vulnerable in society. There has also been a massive increase in usage of foodbanks and social supermarkets from individuals in full time employment because of the cost-of-living crisis.