Food bank visitors in Coventry: ‘Compassion has disappeared out of the welfare state’

People at the Trussell Trust's busiest outpost tell Emily Dugan of biting sanctions, rationing meals and living with an empty cupboard

SOCIAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT

It was a muddle with a form that first made Craig, 31, lose his benefits. He had been looking for work in Coventry for nearly a year, diligently going to the jobcentre and trawling through adverts. Then he made a mistake that would leave him hungry for a month.

“I filled out a form saying I was searching for work from Monday to Friday and I was meant to put from Thursday to Thursday. It was just a mistake but I had my benefits sanctioned for four weeks. It was just before Christmas last year and I was panicking about presents for my kids, but the job supervisor said ‘you’re not paid to get presents, you’re paid to look for work’.”

Too proud to go to a food bank, the divorced father of two made it through the month surviving on the last few tins in his cupboard and limiting himself to one meal a day.

Craig suffers from severe depression and lost his job working nights as a courier a year ago because he had missed too many days to the illness. Last month he found out his mother had terminal cancer and his depression worsened. He went to the doctor, who said he was too ill to work and registered him as eligible for the sickness benefit employment support allowance (ESA).

That should have been the start of a time of respite, but bureaucratic delays meant the new benefit never came. Last Friday marked three weeks since he last received any money and Craig finally cracked.

His four- and seven-year-old sons were due for their monthly visit at the weekend and he had nothing to feed them, so he came to his local food bank in Hebron church.

“All I’ve got is a tin of peas in my cupboard and a bit of milk in the fridge,” he says, too embarrassed to make eye contact.

“I last ate yesterday morning and that was a bowl of cornflakes. In the last week I’ve had maybe six meals. I went to a benefit advice centre this morning and they sent me here. I’ve had to swallow my pride because I wanted to have food for my boys.”

Sitting in a cafe behind the church, he is handed five bursting carrier bags of food, including fresh vegetables, tins, pasta and bread. His hands shake as he packs the heavy tins into his rucksack and prepares for a wobbly cycle home with the plastic bags on his handlebars.

Coventry is now the busiest Trussell Trust outpost in the country. In the past year its network of food banks gave 17,658 people emergency food, up 41 per cent on the year before. The city has just opened their 14th distribution centre and a further two will open this year.

Food bank manager Hugh McNeil is a softly spoken churchgoer, and doesn’t look the tubthumping political type. But, when asked about the impact of the Government’s welfare reforms, he struggles to contain his fury. “Compassion has disappeared out of the welfare state,” he says. “There’s none any more. The way these benefits are being administered is just so punitive and nobody seems to be thinking about the children affected either.”

Hebron, an evangelical church in a converted bowling alley in the east of the city, is one of the trust’s newer branches. A mile or so closer to the city centre is The Hope Centre, the busiest of Coventry’s distribution points, which frequently gives food to dozens of families a day.

One woman has come to make sure she has enough food to make it through the school holidays with her son aged 12. She has “practically nothing” left in her cupboards, beyond a couple of tins of beans and the dregs of a milk bottle.

“Being on benefits means that the kids get free school meals so in the holidays that means finding an extra meal a day,” she says. “ I dread the holidays because of it. Not being able to afford to do stuff is a problem too.”

She recently transferred on to ESA after having to appeal against a medical assessment that she was fit to work. “I’ve only just won, and while I was fighting it my income went from £165 a week to £71. I have child benefit and tax credit on top of that but it was still tough.”

After filling out a form and picking up dried and tinned food, she goes to a shipping container in the car park, where fresh produce and hot cross buns are added to five overflowing bags.

In the centre’s cafe, a  distraught mother with a  five-day-old baby waits, hoping for food and nappies. She has five children and the new arrival combined with the start of the Easter holidays has crippled the family’s precarious budget.

Makadi Mulambela, 28, is one of the last to arrive. He has been struggling to feed himself after being hit with a month’s benefit sanction. “They sanctioned me because I made a mistake on the job search form,” he explains.

“The website I’d been using was direct.gov and I wrote that I’d been on direct.jobs, which was wrong. I had been looking on it, I just wrote it down wrong. It’s difficult because when they catch you on something like that you don’t get  a chance to explain, that’s  just it.”

Gavin Kibble, the food bank’s operations director, is adamant that welfare reforms are responsible for much of the rise in need. “ We’re seeing a lot of people coming through the food bank because of benefit sanctions. Around 43 per cent of our cases relate to a DWP issue, whether that’s a benefit change or sanctions. We could chop in half the cases we needed to help with if DWP sorted things out.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
News
i100(More than you think)
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
News
i100
News
people
News
Tony Blair and David Cameron side by side in 2006
people
News
news

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney 'denied all knowledge' of the Twitter activity

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Recruitment Genius: Accountant

£25000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?