Soaring number of Sheffield families going hungry this Christmas

Food bank volunteers in action
Food bank volunteers in action

Soaring numbers of families are going hungry this Christmas as Sheffield food banks struggle with demand.

Support networks around the city are coming under increasing pressure – with volunteers blaming the impact of ‘petty’ benefit sanctions forcing more people to turn to food banks to feed their families.

Nick Waterfield, from the Parson Cross Initiative, run from Mount Tabor Methodist Church on Wordsworth Avenue, said its food bank had its busiest day of the year earlier this month, with 16 households referred for support in one afternoon.

He said increasing demand has been a trend throughout the year.

Mr Waterfield said: “About 75 per cent of our referrals are related to benefit delays and sanctions, which is similar to the national picture.

“We have not had our final year figures yet, but last year we fed 694 people.

“This year, we had crashed through 1,000 by October.”

Mr Waterfield said demand has ‘grown massively’ in the four years the food bank has been running.

He said: “We are glad we get the donations and are very grateful for everyone who supports us with their time and efforts, but actually every week we just wish we didn’t have to do this.”

Some of the city’s 16 food banks have recently been granted a share of new £120,000 funding from Sheffield Council to help maintain their supplies over winter.

The council has also given £180,000 to Sheffield Citizens Advice to set up a new advice service for food bank users.

It follows recent national research that highlighted record numbers of working families are in poverty due to low-paid jobs.

Andy Buck, Sheffield Citizens Advice chief executive, said: “Many of our clients face increasing hardship, especially in winter.”

Home-Start Sheffield, which supports vulnerable families in the city, said it is referring increasing numbers of people to food banks.

After only making one referral last year, it has made 15 since April, with 10 in the last three months – with more than 30 children among the 15 families.

Jack Scott, Home-Start manager, said there had been a ‘sharp rise’ in demand across Sheffield.

He said: “Most of our families who are going to food banks have been sanctioned or lost their benefits, often for petty reasons.

“Many families are struggling and sanctions like this push them in to crisis.

“It’s important for people to know this crisis doesn’t just affect adults sanctioned, but can have a major impact on children, who haven’t done anything.”

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith said benefit sanctions are only used as a ‘last resort’ when claimants have broken rules on seeking employment.