Blackpool charity says it is feeding 1,000 people every week as families struggle to make ends meet

Volunteers and service users Jonathon Taitt and Franklin Taitt from His Provision CIC food bank on Central Drive
Volunteers and service users Jonathon Taitt and Franklin Taitt from His Provision CIC food bank on Central Drive
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An increasing number of Blackpool families are relying on food hand-outs amid government benefit sanctions and cuts, it has been claimed.

Volunteers say they are now handing out a record number of parcels containing bare essentials as resort residents struggle to make ends meet.

Distribution coordinator at the Blackpool Food Partnership, Sue Oldroyd, said: “I can’t see an end in sight.

“The numbers are growing and growing. We started out four years ago and there were six of us around a table. Now we have 55 organisations that we cover.”

And Linda Nulty, trustee and volunteer at Fylde Foodbank, added: “We live and hope this will not carry on but looking at the political situation at the minute, I can’t see it changing.”

Blackpool Food Partnership, based in Bispham, has delivered 773 food parcels to hostels, soup kitchens, the Salvation Army, children centre’s, and a number of charities, in the first six months of this year.

It only gave out 989 in the whole of 2016, Sue said. She added: “We are feeding 1,000 people a week in hostels and soup kitchens.

“These are people who really need it, such as families on low incomes. There are a lot of sanctions. People are working but they are getting to the last week before they get paid and they have nothing left.

“The £10 minimum wage [Labour has pledged to introduce if it wins this week’s general election] would make a big difference to people in Blackpool; to the single people but especially the families, because most work here pays the minimum wage.

“We never used to have anything like this, where people used to have to beg for food. It’s terrible. People are getting to the point where they are at the end of their tether. That’s what we are trying to stop.”

Christine Phillips from His Provision food bank in Central Drive said staff are currently handing out 48 packages a week – a 25 per cent hike compared to this time last year – as benefit sanctions bite.

Describing volunteers as ‘extremely’ busy, she said: “We deal with families, we don’t just give out willy nilly to those who say they are homeless. In the past few weeks we have seen people who have had their benefits stopped or reduced.”

She said some residents are finding it hard to cope with £20 less per week than they were receiving last year after being told to pay back past overpayments, and said volunteers are also helping a number of families struggling to feed children who are disabled.

“The mums who come to us have husbands in work and they are on tax credits but they are not managing,” she added, saying better paying jobs are needed in the town. “It’s not always people who are unemployed and on the dole.”

Because the food bank relies entirely on charitable donations, it can only give out one parcel, which lasts three days, per family a week, but offers another to those who carry out three hours of volunteer work, including working in the community cafe, gardening, and in the food bank itself.

Fylde Foodbank, which has bases in St Annes, Kirkham, and Warton, has handed out an average of 20 to 25 parcels a week to families ‘just not managing’ since opening in 2013, Ms Nulty told The Gazette.

She said that figure drops to 15 ‘sometimes’, but added: “The majority of families we get have had their benefits sanctioned or are on a low income. The disability living allowance (DLA) has reduced for some people.

“And Universal Credit has had a big impact.”

Fylde Foodbank has been open for almost three years, and was launched by a group of good samaritans who recognised people were going hungry, Ms Nulty said. It gives each recipient three parcels every six months in the majority of cases, and mostly to people who have been referred by another agency.

She added: “Some of the churches noticed people were in need. We started very small but now are quite big. We hoped – and still hope – it will be a short-term measure.”

HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SANCTIONED?

Government figures show that, between October 2012 and September last year, there were 2.3 million benefit sanctions against claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).

During that time, staff at the Jobcentres in Blackpool – in Queen Street and Tyldesley Road – handed out 7,745 sanctions between them.

There were 4,184 decisions found in favour of the claimant, and 762 reserved decisions – where sanctions were found to be appropriate but could not be applied because the claimant did not have a current claim to Jobseeker’s Allowance.

There were also 4,349 cancelled sanction referrals, which resulted in no decision being made. Across Cumbria and Lancashire, 3,197 decisions to sanction Employment and Support

Allowances were also made.

Those most likely to have their JSA sanctioned were between the ages of 18 and 24, white, male, able-bodied, and living in central England.

WHY ARE SANCTIONS HANDED OUT?

The primary reasons are failing to look for a job or to turn up for an interview with Jobcentre staff without a ‘good reason’, statistics show. Others include refusing to go on work programmes, refusing to apply for or accept a specific job, or for quitting employment voluntarily without a good reason.

WHAT HAS THE GOVERNMENT SAID?

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said benefit sanctions are only imposed when claimants don’t complete agreed tasks, though there have also been reported cases of overpayments being taken from future payments, or demanded back if benefits are no longer being claimed.

The spokesmwoman said it’s important people check to see what’s expected of them, and said those who disagree with sanctions can appeal in front of an independent tribunal.

“Sanctions are only used in a very small percentage of cases,” she said in a statement. “In the last year, less than one per cent of ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) recipients and two per cent of JSA (Jobseeker’s Allowance) recipients were sanctioned each month.”

WHAT IS UNIVERSAL CREDIT, PIP, DLA, ETC?

Universal Credit is a single monthly payment for people both in and out of work. It has consolidated several other benefits, including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, and Child Tax Credit.

Those claiming it for the first time face waits of up to six weeks before receiving their first payment. And because it can also be claimed by couples – there are reports of both people suffering when one faces a sanction. Personal Independence Payments (PIP) is gradually replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and is paid to help with the costs of living with a chronic health condition or disability.

More than 50,000 people with specially adapted vehicles have had them taken away since PIP was brought in, in 2013, while the Money Advice Service is offering advice to those whose PIP payments are less than they were getting on DLA – or have even stopped entirely.

On its website, the Citizens Advice Bureau said: “If you got a lower rate than you expected, you can ask the DWP to reconsider the amount of PIP they’ve decided to give you.

“You need to do this within one month of the date on your decision letter. You should talk to an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice before you ask the DWP to reconsider because there’s a small chance you’ll lose what you’ve been given.”

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is given to those who can’t work due to an illness of disability. From last month, new claimants who, it is decided, may be fit enough to return to work in the future had their entitlement cut by £30 – equivalent to around a third of the currently benefit.

The government said the move will encourage people to go back to work, but critics argued it is a cruel measure that will leave disabled people unable to pay for basics, while the Commons Work and Pensions Committee said its aim was ‘ambiguous at best’.