AS the demand for food banks has increased, many people are forced to make a choice between whether they pay for food or fuel.
Food banks are operating across the Herald and Gazette area, with services in Worthing, Shoreham, Littlehampton and Lancing serving residents.
The economic downturn and its aftermath has meant many young families and single people are having to live paycheck to paycheck, with no money left for saving.
The situation has left people having to make tough choices, according to John Woods, of Lancing and Sompting Basics Bank.
He said: “Some people face a daily dilemma; food or fuel. Food to feed their family or fuel to heat their home. Hungry and warm, or cold and fed.”
The food bank, held at Lancing Tabernacle church, in North Road, is a small operation funded solely by local churches.
Some people face a daily dilemma; food or fuel.John Woods, of Lancing and Sompting Basics Bank
Mr Woods recalled a case he encountered when a family was living out of a caravan while they were building their own home.
But during this time the father of the family was made redundant, leaving the family in a poor financial situation and having to fall back on the food bank.
He said the family did not think they were the kind of people to visit a food bank - a reality that many users are now facing.
In Littlehampton, the Baptist Church food bank recently reported a ‘distressing’ rise in the number of pensioners being forced to use the service.
The facility, in Fitzalan Road, opened 18 months ago and has seen a steady rise in the amount of elderly people that have turned to the service for support.
Hazel Cooper, who runs the food bank, said: “Talking about our elderly clients, the level of poverty some face has been quite shocking and distressing.”
Ms Cooper said she was ‘shocked’ by the level of deprivation some of the elderly residents were forced to contend with, which she claimed was a result of a change in how people apply for their pensions and a lack of awareness about the new procedures in applying.
She went on to say: “We’ve had to step in with a few people and help them apply for their pensions.”
The idea of food banks was seeded in 1999 when Paddy and Carol Henderson, founders of the Trussel Trust, received a call from a distressed mother in Salisbury while they were working in Bulgaria with abandoned children.
When they got back to Salisbury, Paddy and Carol began researching ‘hidden hunger’ and found thousands of people on low incomes would frequently hit crisis point and as a result would struggle to feed both themselves and their families.
Their response to the problem was to set up the first ever food bank, which opened in their garden shed, with the idea that the public would deposit food and those in need would withdraw items when they produced an authorised voucher.
In its first year, the food bank fed 600 people and in 2004 the Trussel Trust developed one of the UK’s first social franchises: the Food Bank Network, which has since opened 400 food banks nationwide.
A spokesperson for the Trussel Trust said: “For many UK families living on the breadline, the choice between heating and eating is a stark reality.
“Our joint research with Church Action Poverty and Oxfam found that 40 per cent of low-income households report being faced with the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma.”
The Herald asked some readers what they thought of food banks and the work they do.
Maureen Normanton, 69, from Worthing, said: “These days it’s all too easy to fall through the cracks, there aren’t a lot of jobs out there so people need the support. You never know when you could find yourself in that position. Knowing somebody is there is comforting.”
Harry Tatterall, 73, from Worthing, said: “People should work to provide for themselves. The more food banks there are, the less people will be applying for work.”
Bradley Tappenden, 57, also of Worthing, said: “They do a good job, especially for the homeless. I think more could be done to give them somewhere to go every night.”
One of the driving forces making people choose between food or fuel is fuel poverty.
A fuel poor household is defined as one that must spend more than ten per cent of its income on all fuel use and to heat its home to an adequate standard of warmth
When quizzed about fuel poverty forcing people to use food banks, Energy UK, the trade association for the energy industry, said: “Energy companies provide plenty of support to help their customers, from subsidised energy efficiency measures, access to trust funds and a priority service register.
“If you are worried about your energy bills, contact your supplier immediately.”
It is not only rising energy bills which are forcing people into fuel poverty, inefficient housing is one of the primary causes as well.
Although improvements have been made, the housing stock remains inefficient, so much so that residents in the least energy-efficient homes would have to spend an extra £1,700 a year to heat their homes to an adequate level.
Since 2001, the Government has had a legal duty to set out policies that will attempt to cut out fuel poverty, and while various schemes and measures have been put in place, the number of households assessed to be in fuel poverty has not fallen in line with targets.
Worthing Food Bank has two centres – Cornerstone Methodist Church, in Brighton Road, open Monday to Friday from 2pm to 3.30pm and St Stephen’s Café Church, in Angola Road, open Monday and Friday from midday to 1.30pm.
Littlehampton Food Bank is open every Tuesday and Friday from 1pm to 3pm at Littlehampton Baptist Church, Fitzalan Road. Shoreham Food Bank is open from 4pm to 6pm every Friday at the St John Ambulance building in Ham Road.