Desperate residents with mounting money problems are turning up to Sheffield advice centres hungry – as they cannot afford to buy food.
Sheffield Citizens’ Advice said they are sending people straight to food banks before trying to sort out their money worries.
The revelation comes as Debt charity StepChange said the number of people calling for help in the city had risen by 30 per cent in the first half of this year – and the average person had just £20 left for the month after paying their bills.
Advisers in the city are also dealing with desperate cases of people going without eating because they have so little money.
“We are certainly seeing the problem get more serious,” said Steve Wilcox, consultant for Sheffield Citizens’ Advice.
“What we are seeing more and more of is people who haven’t got enough money to cover the essentials like rent and council tax, before they even start to look at credit agreements.”
Welfare changes – including the bedroom tax and tougher sanctions for people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance – were part of the reason why people were struggling, he said.
Even people who have found jobs are left with uncertain incomes because of zero-hours contracts or situations where they must report to their place of work to see if they are needed each day.
Steve added: “We are assisting people who often have no income at all.
“We will help in various ways to address income issues but sometimes the short term help is having to direct people to food banks.
“More and more people we advise haven’t got any food in the house or money to buy it.
“These are the people in greatest need and on the cutting edge of poverty.”
StepChange said 2,092 residents in the Sheffield postcode area sought debt advice from its helpline in the first half of this year, compared to 1,608 in the same period last year.
The average caller had just £20 left after paying for basic living costs like housing payments, energy bills and council tax – as well as owing an average of £11,077 in unsecured debt.
Mike O’Connor, chief executive, said: “Many people are plagued with severe financial worries that can have a huge impact on their health, relationships and even their ability to simply get a good night’s sleep.
“All too often, people face their debt burden alone, which can worsen the pressure and anxiety they are feeling.
“We would encourage anyone who is struggling with debt to take that first crucial step and seek free, confidential advice.”
Sheffield MP Paul Blomfield has called for the minimum wage to be raised to help people struggling with debt.
The politician is Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Debt and Personal Finance, working closely with charities and organisations that support people in debt.
He also campaigned to ‘stop the rip-off’ and further regulate pay-day lenders, which are another factor in spiralling debt, and says more employers should pay the living wage.
Mr Blomfield said: “It’s shocking that almost three million people are dealing with problem debt.
“Too many people are struggling to make ends meet, because their income won’t cover their basic living costs.
“We need to raise the minimum wage and crack down on those who don’t pay it, and we must end the abuse of zero-hours contracts and encourage more employers to pay the living wage.
“It’s also important that help is available to people before their debts mount up, but I know advice services are hard-pressed.
“That’s why I’ve been pushing for an increased levy on payday lenders to support free and independent debt advice.
“I’d encourage anyone with debt problems to seek specialist debt advice.”
-For debt advice call 0114 2055055 or visit www.advicesheffield.org.uk to arrange an appointment.