Vulnerable people in Wandsworth are increasingly being forced into food poverty and associated suicidal tendencies by the government’s welfare reforms, a new report has warned.
Wandsworth Foodbank distributed enough emergency food to feed more than 4,000 people in the last 12 months, according to their annual food poverty report, which is a 25% increase on the previous year.
Problems with benefits remained the single most common reason for referrals to food banks, with 90% of guests interviewed experiencing a delay or change to their benefit payments in the last 12 months.
Candida Jones, Labour councillor for Furzedown, said: “I am totally shocked by these latest figures.
“That one of the richest boroughs in one of the richest cities in the world has 4,000 people suffering from food poverty suggests the system that should be in place to support our most vulnerable people is in a state of collapse.”
The report also found food poverty was having an increasing impact on the mental health of people who depend on the service.
The majority of food bank guests cited poorer mental health as the biggest impact of food poverty (90%), with half of respondents feeling their health difficulties had been triggered by the stress of their current situation.
And a quarter of food bank voucher providers said they had witnessed clients experiencing suicidal tendencies, which is twice as many as last year.
One food bank user, who asked not to be named, said: “I’ve never been like this, I’ve always worked, I’ve always had money.
“When you’ve got no money, it does put a strain on you. You feel like a failure and you just feel lost.”
Around 87% of food bank users with mental health difficulties were also experiencing benefit delivery problems that had caused or contributed to crisis leading to food bank referral.
A quarter of all respondents expressed concern about the difficulty their clients with mental health needs had in negotiating the bureaucracy of the welfare system.
While 60% of voucher partners said the current benefits system catered ‘badly’ or ‘very badly’ for the clients with mental health difficulties.
Sarah Chapman, who wrote the report, said: “The system is not only over complicated, jargon-laden and hard to access but letters are barely comprehensible to somebody who is used to reading their letters, therefore acting as a significant barrier to those with any additional learning needs.”
Single parent households suffered the biggest increase in food bank use and now account for a quarter of food bank users in the borough.
Ms Chapman said: “The welfare reforms are particularly hitting single parent households and what we have found is that the pressures of living in London and a uniform benefits system keep making it really difficult for people in London.”
She said income from low-paid jobs, insecure contracts and benefits are not providing sufficient income to soften the impact of benefit caps or meeting the high cost of living in London after the number of people affected by low income increased 26%.
Battersea MP Jane Ellison said in a statement: “There have been some important reforms to the benefit system but, as a constituency MP, I can see the impact on individuals when things don’t run smoothly at the local level.
“That’s why I recently chaired a roundtable with the Wandsworth Foodbank team bringing together local councillors, Jobcentre Plus and others to understand what more could be done to offer practical help.”
Ms Chapman said: “We are really grateful to everyone who supports us by donating, volunteering and giving up their time to help their neighbours who are struggling.
“It saddens me that food banks have become an established part of society when we really want to do ourselves out of a job because people do not need us anymore. That would be our dream.”