Gracefilled Okeke says 70% of food bank visitors are pensioners
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Feedo Needo runs four food banks in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Bradford where older people including those in their 60s and 70s account for “more than 70 percent” of demand. Many of these people have worked hard all their lives only to find themselves destitute – relying on handouts from the public because their salary, benefits or state pension isn’t enough to get by.
Gracefilled Okeke, a senior project coordinator at Feedo Needo, said stocks were down by around a third at the start of 2023 because “everyone is struggling” to buy food and pay their energy bills due to the cost of living crisis.
She told the Daily Express: “It’s been a struggle keeping up with demand. Things have become really expensive and people are now turning towards food banks to support themselves.
“We have pensioners, disabled, literally people of all ages, young, older, middle-aged, all of them come in, single mothers.
“A lot of them have jobs, some of them are well dressed – we see people who are working full-time come in to get coffee and sandwiches.”
Yet, alarmingly, people nearing retirement age and pensioners make up the majority of the people in need at the food banks she runs. In fact, Miss Okeke said they account for nearly three-quarters of people visiting her food banks.
She said “over 70 percent” of people coming to them every day are older people especially on Fridays when they give out food parcels.
Her concerns have been echoed by other food banks across the UK – Sabine Goodwin, director of the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN), which represents more than 1,000 food banks, said people who have never used a food bank before, are now turning to them for help.
“More people who are working, more families, more pensioners, more single people and more disabled people are unable to afford food and other essentials,” she told the Daily Express. “The situation is untenable and growing food insecurity will have a disastrous impact on our society as a whole. The government must act to urgently increase social security payments and ensure wages match the cost of living.”
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The Trussell Trust, which supports more than 1,300 food bank centres, said they are at “breaking point” as need outweighs demand for the first time ever in its 25-year history.
Although it doesn’t have a breakdown of food bank users by age, it said it has seen a rise in working people coming to their centres for help.
Josie Barlow, food bank manager at Bradford Foodbank said: “We have seen a huge increase in people coming to the food bank in the last two months compared to the same period last year and our stock levels are very low for this time of the year. Someone who came to the food bank recently told me that ‘buying milk is a luxury now’.”
Former NHS worker, Bill West, 64, from Birmingham told the Daily Express he wouldn’t be able to eat every day if it wasn’t for the food donations he receives from Feedo Needo.
“I feel bitter, I’m angry and I’m disgusted that Britain can treat people like that,” he said. “It’s an absolute disgrace.”
Worse still, many food banks are having to double up as ‘warm banks’ this winter because people can’t afford to put the heating on at home.
James Mcwilliams is 53 and has been visiting Feedo Needo’s Arabica cafe in Birmingham for the last two years.
He said: “It’s nice and warm. Where I live the heating only goes on three times a day. When it’s minus 10 degrees celsius outside – you need the heating on all day.
“Places like this are a godsend for homeless people and people on low incomes. I only get £180 a month so it’s not a lot to live on really.
“I worked as a chef – I was in catering for 25 years. We’re supposed to be the third richest country in the world.”
The Father of a church and food bank in Bristol told the Daily Express that in 45 years of working alongside poor communities, he’s never seen so much desperation. He said people who would usually donate themselves – including the middle classes – are now turning to them for help.
Church coffers are having to make up the difference as middle-class families struggle to help out and even teachers are having to rely on food parcels.
“We’ve had teachers coming here for help,” Mr McKay said. “I feel angry that in a wealthy society like our own, there can be such poverty. There’s no doubt that some people will have to go hungry.”
It’s a similar situation in Torbay, Devon where 68-year-old Bettina volunteers at a charity called Punk Against Poverty. She told the Daily Express that many pensioners are living off soup and sandwiches because they can no longer afford to cook a hot meal.
Bettina and her cousin Tavy – who is 76 and lives in nearby Paignton – say it’s the worst they’ve seen it in the last 50 years. “We’ve all worked hard – not claimed benefits – done everything we were supposed to do. And it’s all for nothing.”
To find out how to get involved or volunteer for Feedo Needo, people can visit the website feedoneedo.org.uk – all donations are greatly appreciated.
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