EMERGENCY food handouts rose by 38 per cent in Swindon this year, but it’s purely down to accessibility and awareness of foodbanks, according to North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson.
In a report published today by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust, which runs a network of foodbanks including Swindon’s, it is revealed more than 6,000 Swindon residents sought help in 2013/14.
For 2012/13, the figure was 4,378, a rise of almost 40 per cent in 12 months, which must be attributed to awareness of improved access and not the cost of living, says Mr Tomlinson.
“The increase is a reflection of the removal of the stigma of using foodbanks,” he said.
“And the Government’s decision to improve access, by providing vouchers at job centres and other agencies.
“This shows the collective good of the community working together to help others.
“Access has improved and there are more foodbanks opening. The more you open, the more usage will go up.”
The report, titled Below the Breadline, reveals foodbanks in the South West have grown in number from one in 2005 to 39 in 2014.
Lindsay Reade, 25, is one of those who has benefitted from the improved access. Shortly before Christmas 2010 she received vouchers for Swindon Foodbank from the job centre.
Miss Reade, of Downton Road, Penhill, now works at Burger King and has started her own jewellery business. She has not needed a handout since 2011.
There is a stigma or shame attached with foodbank use, she said, which is what keeps her in work and away from the handouts which made her feel ashamed.
“Even though they were friendly, I didn’t like going. It wasn’t nice to have to go and get free food,” she said.
“[I felt] quite low really. I’d worked since I was 16, so it was a very low point in my life. I was 21 at the time.
“I’d probably feel worse [going back now], if I’m honest. I’ve said countless times to friends and family, I’ll never go on jobseeker’s allowance again.
“I’ll jump from job to job if I have to, but I’ll never go back to the job centre.”
Miss Reade said the use of foodbanks is becoming more accepted, but only as a last resort. It should not be used by those too lazy to try to find work, she added.
John McKellar, 26, of Banwell Avenue, Park North, was another foodbank user in Swindon. He is concerned there is a wrongful stigma attached to food handouts.
The M&S stock handler, who turned to Swindon Foodbank after being sanctioned by the job centre while on jobseeker’s allowance, said it is wrong for people to feel bad about using a service which saves lives.
“People shouldn’t have to be ashamed of using them,” he said. “The foodbank service needs proper support as they don’t seem to have enough.”
Asked if he felt people were ashamed to use the foodbank, he said: “That’s what I heard from a lot of people that have used them. They should advertise it as it’s no-one’s fault that they have been put in the situation they’re in. Then I reckon more people will use them.”