Surge in Edinburgh foodbank use as changes to benefits bite

Foodbank manager Kathleen Neilly. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Foodbank manager Kathleen Neilly. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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DESPERATE families in the Capital’s poorest areas are flocking to foodbanks for help, a charity boss has revealed.

Figures released today by operator the Trussell Trust show just under 15,000 using their centres in the city over the last year – a slight drop on the previous 12 months, but including 5000 children.

But Ewan Walker says his three banks covering Pilton, Muirhouse and other deprived neighbourhoods have seen a 50 per cent rise in the last three months – driven by benefits changes.

“It is deeply concerning that we are still seeing an increase,” said Mr Walker, manager at the Trussell Trust’s Edinburgh Food Project. “Anybody could find themselves in need of the foodbank.

“Every week people are referred to us after being hit by something unavoidable – such as illness, a delay in a benefit payment or an unexpected bill – meaning food is simply unaffordable.”

Andy, 28, a trained car mechanic from Niddrie, started using foodbanks two years ago after becoming a full-time carer for his partner.

“It was either starve or get a bit of food and help – I’d rather take the help,” he said.

But after walking half-way across the city, Andy says he was made to feel “worthless” at a non-Trussell Trust centre.

“I thought I would hopefully catch my breath before I walked back but they just gave me my parcel and wanted me to leave – I thought if I ever get the chance, I’ll do things differently.

Andy has been volunteering two days a week at the Edinburgh Food Project’s Craigmillar foodbank since it opened in November.

He said: “When people come in, we ask them if they want a cup of tea and a sandwich. What we’re trying to get across is that foodbanks are not a bad place if people want to come in.

“I just want to help my community because I don’t see the government or politicians stepping in.”

General manager of West Lothian Foodbank Kathleen Neilly said: “The real problem is the introduction of Universal Credit – and it’s only going to get worse. That means people have to wait six or seven weeks for their money – if you’d got a new job, you wouldn’t have to wait six or seven weeks to get paid.”

West Lothian is about to open its ninth foodbank in Armadale, with a tenth on the way in Livingston.

Ms Neilly said demand is so great, a 24-year-old man took three-and-a-half hours to walk the 11 miles from his home near Broxburn to the Whitburn foodbank.

“We’re getting more and more young families coming in,” said Ms Neilly. “You can see the difference from when they come in and when they go out.

“When they come in they’re worried what they’re coming into – they’re embarrassed and distressed.”

SNP councillor Lewis Ritchie said: “The figures make for uncomfortable reading but are a timely reminder of the crushing poverty that too many people in Edinburgh face.

“I’m encouraged that there have been some improvements in the Edinburgh figures and our commitment to reducing deprivation and inequality has made an impact.”

andy.shipley@jpress.co.uk