A Wandsworth Labour councillor whose life changed after an accident has criticised Universal Credit for leaving residents unable to afford a meal.
Kemi Akinola, 36, is also the CEO of Be Enriched, a community-based food charity she set up after a serious car accident inspired her to turn to volunteering.
She said the charity has two principal aims – engaging young people in the community in a way that allows them to genuinely ‘give back’, and serving healthy meals to those struggling to make ends meet.
The 36-year-old brought young volunteers with her to trial giving out fresh healthy meals in a community style canteen. The success of the first few months far exceeded expectations and it was from that the charity Be Enriched was born.
Traditional volunteering for young people like painting walls and digging don’t afford them the opportunity to engage with the community, but food brings people together, said Ms Akinola.
She said: “As a person who has experienced a disabling accident which prevented me from working, I am more than aware of how little distance benefits go – the choice between food and fuel is a really difficult one that I believe no one should ever have to make.”
The former architecture student was just 23 years old when a car knocked her down as she was cycling through Brixton – the accident left Ms Akinola in a coma for two months and took her two years to recover from.
She added: “Every time I speak to the guests recently they’ll tell me their universal credit has left them without money to buy food so they’ve already visited the foodbank, but can’t cook the food as they have no gas or electricity.”
Statistics from UK food waste charity FareShare show around 8.4 million people in the UK – roughly the population of London itself – cannot afford to eat.
In 2018 UK food bank usage reached its highest ever rate as delays incurred by the Universal Credit scheme are taking their toll, according to data from the Trussell Trust.
Ms Akinola added: “In five years time I hope Be Enriched doesn’t exist to feed hungry people but exists solely to bring people together.
“In a country with access to so much food people shouldn’t be starving.”
On average 1.9 million tonnes of food goes to waste in the UK every year.