With hundreds of thousands of visits to foodbanks occurring every year, coupled with benefit cuts and delays, how do staff on the frontline cope, reports Charlie Wetton
It’s not often you find people who will so openly preach about wanting to lose their job. But for the coordinator of a Kennington foodbank – Rebekah Gibson, it is something that she longs for. I sat down with her during the middle of a standard two-hour session of the Oasis Centre in Kennington.
Foodbanks, benefit cuts and delays and endless parliamentary debates have kept foodbanks in the news for years now. Those on the frontline of this ongoing struggle are left to pick up societies pieces. According to the Trussel Trust, more than one million three-day emergency food supplies were issued between April 2016 and March 2017. In the six months following, another half a million were given out as the true reality of the Universal Credit switchover bore out.
Rebekah is the only paid staff member of the Waterloo branch of the Trussel Trust. With her are a group of up to 50 regular volunteers. She explained why so many people offered their time.
“A lot of our volunteers have recently seen the film I Daniel Blake… They saw that and thought ‘I didn’t realise how big this problem was’ and they felt the couldn’t sit back.”
Throughout this 20-minute sit down, it was refreshing to hear the passion of someone talking about their career. Even when asked about the hard times and how the job can affect her.
“Lots of the people coming in here are in really horrible situations, they’ve had really tough and really traumatic events happen to them… When people open up and share those stories with you, it’s great that you can be a part of their journey, a part of their story but obviously it does affect you emotionally and does cause impact to you. “
There is no doubt to her that cuts and delays to benefits have been the primary driver of people to foodbanks. This interview came just two days after Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced the switchover period to Universal Credit would be reduced to five from six weeks. Rebekah described the six-week wait as “crippling” to people living hand to mouth. The end of the interview leads to me to ask bluntly. Is this a battle you can win?
“All foodbank managers would like to say that they would be done out of a job. Our vision is to see the door of the last foodbank close”.
Unsurprisingly she qualifies that this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Downstairs in the store room, plastic tubs full of cereals and canned goods adorn the shelves. I see the laminated sheets that spell out how much of what different groups of people should get.
Down there, I meet two volunteers, sifting through large boxes of donations. One of them, Katie told me that being in-between jobs means she wanted to do something with her spare time. The bureaucracy of the benefits system is castigated, how heavy handed it can be because you may miss one appointment or fill out a form incorrectly.
“Just doing something and not knowing it’s the wrong thing to do. The idea that you can end up not being able to feed your family because of that is just awful”.