17:18 Wednesday 16th October 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: There are calls for an inquiry into why more and more people are in food poverty. The Trussell Trust which runs the UK’s largest network of food banks says the number of people attending its Cambridge centre has almost doubled over the last twelve months. And according to some today, professional workers who have lost their jobs have started using them. Citizens Advice in Cambridge say the year on year demand for food vouchers has doubled. Earlier I spoke to Dan Crossley from the charity The Food Ethics Council.
DAN CROSSLEY: It’s a very serious issue, food poverty, which is being picked up in the Press, and being picked up in the Press today. There are many many thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people right across the UK, and in other parts of the world too, who are suffering from food poverty. In other words, unable to obtain healthy affordable food.
CHRIS MANN: How has this happened? We’re hearing that one of the areas of concern is that people with jobs can’t afford to feed themselves and their families. How can that be?
DAN CROSSLEY: Well it’s a combination of factors. At the simplest it’s we’ve seen rising food prices over the last four, five years. A 20% rise in food prices in that time, well above average earnings. And clearly there are many many more people out of work now than there were (unclear) years ago. But actually it’s a whole host of factors, as I’ve said, including issues with the benefit system. So benefit delays, people not being paid benefits in a timely fashion for example. So the people affected and people using food banks for example are clearly those out of work, many of those out of work, but also some of those on low incomes, and those facing genuine crisis situations.
CHRIS MANN: Yes, so the people who are in trouble, are they people who deserve help, who’ve done nothing wrong, who in the last would have received help?
DAN CROSSLEY: Certainly people using food banks and other types of similar charitable provision are on the whole genuinely people in need. And they have .. there are people who through no fault of their own often have lost a job, are under pressure. and are stressed. And very much it’s a last resort for them to be able to use food banks. So it’s real pressure, a real stress, that many people are facing.
CHRIS MANN: Of course the food banks aren’t a long term solution for people, are they?
DAN CROSSLEY: Absolutely not. No. We would say they are a sticking plaster solution, and we very much need to get to the root causes, and need to understand, face up to the reality that food prices, high food prices, are here to stay. And that situation will largely be getting worse. We need to get people back into work. We need to tackle low income levels. So we need to look seriously at things like the living wage. And we also need to make sure that the benefit system actually works the way it’s supposed to.
CHRIS MANN: Of course we’re heading into winter now. Weather’s going to get worse. temperatures are going to fall. Things are going to get worse.
DAN CROSSLEY: It is likely that over the winter months there will be more and more paople suffering. And fuel bills going up, etcetera, all adds to this whirlwind of factors that does make it at one level a depressing picture. But I think there is hope. I think there are steps that can be taken. My method would be let’s take this issue seriously. Let’s make sure that politicians and others really stand up and take this seriously as an issue, and start to think through what are the causes of this, and what steps can they take to avoid this becoming a growing growing crisis in the future.
CHRIS MANN: Dan, I know that you know Cambridge well. You were at University here. But perhaps it would surprise you, it certainly surprised others, to know that even this affluent city has a huge problem. And the food banks, the use of them has doubled in a very short space of time.
DAN CROSSLEY: Yes. It’s not a unique picture. certainly across almost all parts of the UK. As you said, many people would perceive Cambridge and the surrounding regions as a relatively affluent part of the country, but even in your area there are serious issues, and there are pockets where there are people in genuine need, and in genuine stress. So we shouldn’t assume that this is an issue that is isolated to certain parts of the country. It’s very much an issue that affects, or should affect, us all. We all need to stand up and take steps to try and address it.
CHRIS MANN: That’s Dan Crossley from the charity The Food Ethics Council. Well joining us now is Kate Flannery. Hello Kate.
KATE FLANNERY: Hello.
CHRIS MANN: From the Cambridge CAB, the Citizens Advice Bureau of course. You’re very involved in this whole business of food banks, and how people qualify to get that help. Explain how it works please.
KATE FLANNERY: Ok. Yes. We are one of the referral agencies for food banks, along with other agencies like GPs, social services. And we would trigger the giving of a food bank voucher if we considered a client who had come to see us was in what we would consider to be financial emergency. And so we would then give them a food voucher which they would then take along to the local food bank and exchange for a box of food, which lasts for around three days.
CHRIS MANN: And by an emergency, what do you mean by that?
KATE FLANNERY: Well for example if I can give you a case study we’ve just seen here in the Bureau, with a young man in his mid-20s who was working for a local company on what’s called a zero hours contract. So although he had a contract of employment, he wasn’t actually entitled to anything other than zero hours. And so his work was rather piecemeal, which meant that he was unable to budget successfully, because he never knew how much money he was going to get. And in fact although he was paid above the minimum wage, it was very intermittent and unreliable. He had been told by his employer that there wouldn’t be any work for him, one particular week. So he signed on for Jobseekers Allowance and housing benefit. But while he waited for his case to be assessed, it meant he had fourteen days without any money at all. He came in because he was literally starving. He hadn’t eaten properly for several days. So we obviously assessed his case, looked at how we could perhaps help him budgeting, although it’s very difficult on a zero hours contract, gave him the food voucher and advised him to go along to St Pauls Church on Hills Road, where he could get a free cooked lunch.
CHRIS MANN: Desperate straights there Kate.
KATE FLANNERY: Yes.
CHRIS MANN: If he hadn’t come to you, what would he have done? What’s the alternative?
KATE FLANNERY: Well, the thing that we’re most frightened about for people is payday lenders, which are licensed money lenders, and great for short term loans as long as you pay them off. But the problem is for people on very low incomes, particularly people where their income is intermittent, where they can’t budget properly, is that if you miss a loan repayment, the temptation is to get another loan. And it kind of snowballs. So we’re really pleased that Citizens Advice has been able to lobby at Government level to help the FCA sort out the regulations for payday lenders.
CHRIS MANN: Changes are coming there. So people get into trouble, as you just highlighted. People get desperate, and desperate measures in desperate times. So they go to these charlatans, sharks, whatever you want to call them, who then get them into this debt cycle, and things get worse from there.
KATE FLANNERY: Well there is a very distinct difference between payday lenders and loan sharks. Payday lenders are licensed moneylenders. Loan sharks aren’t, and that’s a completely different issue. But what we always say to people, anybody who comes in with any sort of debt issues is think about credit unions. There’s been a lot of news recently about the rise of credit unions in this country.
CHRIS MANN: Explain how they work.
KATE FLANNERY: OK. Well they are owned by their members. They are licensed by the Financial Conduct Authority, so your money is completely safe. They’re local. We have two in Cambridge. The Cambridge City Credit Union, and Rainbow Savers. And you become a member. So basically you sign up. They’re really good for people on low incomes. You can save as much or as little as you want. You can save a pound a week. And the way it works is you save before you borrow. There’s a definite limit on what you can borrow. So it takes a long time to get into the system, but it’s a really supportive helpful way to save and borrow money.
CHRIS MANN: And I think the problem for many people is that they feel that there’s no-one there to help them when they get into a desperate situation. But you’re saying there is.
KATE FLANNERY: That’s absolutely not the case. We are here and we offer free .. what we call free confidential impartial independent advice. And we don’t judge anybody. And we have specialist money advisers. And we can help people prioritise their debts, sort it all out. We’re very keen that coming up to Christmas people don’t overstretch themselves. Because in January we’ve got queues outside the front door as long as your arm. So we really would encourage people to come see us. They can look on our consumer website, consumerhub.org. And there’s some information there about how to budget, and how to contact credit unions. And just we’re gearing up to help people with this migration to Universal Credit, which is another thing coming up soon.
CHRIS MANN: Kate, thank you so much for joining me.
KATE FLANNERY: OK. You’re welcome. Thank you.
CHRIS MANN: Kate Flannery from the Citizens Advice Bureau.