Paddington food bank struggling to support growing number of hungry residents

Tara Osman at Paddington Food Bank

Tara Osman at Paddington Food Bank - Credit: Archant

Food banks see an increasing reliance on the emergency food supply among hungry Paddington residents.

“After 20 years working in mental health, I thought I’d seen people suffering,” says Tara Osman, who heads up the North Paddington Foodbank.

“But I have felt so angry since starting this job. It’s quite shocking to see people who haven’t eaten for five days, you can see they look visibly thinner.”

The former NHS occupational therapist is talking about the increasing reliance on the emergency food supply among hungry Paddington residents.

The situation is thrown into stark relief, says Osman, because most people living in Westminster are unaware of the preventable problems such as benefit delays and changes which can lead to needless hunger for the poorest residents.

She’s noticed the demand for emergency food packages is getting harder to meet:

“We need more donations; it feels like a tidal wave sometimes with the speed at which [the food] leaves the shelves.”

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One client is Mary (not her real name) who works in childcare but has been forced to work reduced hours for six months while waiting for routine Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks to be approved to work one-to-one.

“Right now I work at a primary school as a mealtime supervisor 11 hours a week, a small portion of my work that doesn’t need the CRB check, although before, I also worked more than 20 hours looking after a special needs boy, taking him to and from school.

“I didn’t have loads of money, but I made enough not to rely on benefits or food donations.”

During the six months working at reduced hours and reduced pay she has sought support from the Foodbank twice,

“I live around here - it’s embarrassing to come to a Foodbank, I know quite a lot of people in the local community.”

The North Paddington facility on Harrow Road was set up by the Walterton & Elgin Community Homes (WECH) Housing Association in 2013.

Initially intended to help people in a crisis such as homelessness, domestic abuse and mental health problems, it’s increasingly supporting preventable cases like Mary.

The foodbank has seen a 75 per cent increase in usage over the last two years rising from 25 emergency food supplies in January 2014, to 99 in January 2016.

Osman logs each recipient and their reasons for using the service. She says over half are struggling with preventable benefit problems: “The system is needlessly cruel. There are long gaps between payments. There seems to be no understanding that people need money to live on from day-to-day”.

She feels that people get penalised for being poor; banks charge £5 a day for unarranged overdrafts: “It can easily become a downward spiral and very hard to get out of poverty.”

“All people need is one unexpectedly large bill and suddenly they can’t afford food. Most people in this financial climate don’t have savings to fall back on.”

According to the latest statistics from foodbank charity the Trussell Trust the problem is Nationwide.

The number of people in the UK recieving emergency food supplies during the last financial year rose by 95 per cent in the last three years, from 46,992 in 2013 to 1,109,309 by April 2016.

David McAuley, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust says: “One million food supplies a year must not become the new normal. We are keen to find solutions that stop so many people needing foodbanks in future.”

Westminister City Council Labour Patricia McAllister, who represents the Queens Park Ward and recently launched a drive outside Harrow Road supermarkets encouraging foodbank donations, says the recent overhaul of the benefits system Universal Credit has a huge part to play in making people needlessly poverty stricken.

Currently in its pilot phase, it takes four weeks to register, usually resulting in rent arrears.

“In Queens Park Ward 14 single people were included in the pilot, 13 are now in rent arrears. How defeatist is that? The Department for Work and Pensions are looking into changing it.”

Mary says her job looking after a child with special needs is still open for her while the CRB sort through a backlog. She will go back to working more than 30 hours a week when she’s finally cleared to work with children.

In the meantime she has registered for benefits and has also run into problems with Universal Credit. She must now wait for a further four weeks be get her money.

“it’s just another waiting game”, she says.

Osman adds: “I’m so angry Foodbanks have to exist.”