Pleas for food and help with energy bills are rocketing as some families are forced to turn off power supplies to save money.
Some cannot afford to turn on their cookers to heat the food foodbanks give them, and others ask for torches and blankets to see their families through long nights.
Charity and voluntary sector leaders are warning that scenarios like the above are being repeated across the area as the cost of living crisis bites ever harder.
The warnings were first issued last December when it was discovered that families were making tough decisions between eating or heating, but since then the war in Ukraine has made matters even worse.
Calls to the Torbay Community Helpline for help with finances or access to foodbanks are soaring with call volumes higher than during the first lockdown at 2524 in May this year compared to 2422 in the same month in 2020.
Karen Marcellino, the Helpline Manager said: “We are receiving calls from people who have never needed to approach anyone for support previously. Most people are telling us that the increase in gas, electric and food cost is not sustainable, particularly when the only income is Universal Credit.
“Some callers have advised they have seen a 150% increase in their weekly electric costs. Sadly, a growing number of people over pension age have called for support from the foodbank. Again, telling us that they cannot afford to pay utility costs and purchase food.”
Kath Friedrich from the Path Torbay Foodbank in Torquay says that people who thought they had achieved the dream of having a roof over their heads are suffering: “Some genuinely think they would be better off homeless. They are under a roof, but they have no hot water, no hot food and cannot afford to turn on the lights. Thank goodness the weather is better, at least they are not also freezing.”
“We knew it was going to be bad, but now we have food prices spiralling alongside the energy bills. Debt is mounting and people are being left with stark choices.”
“We are seeing families that we have never come across before. They have nothing and some are facing eviction. I dread the future, because this is going to get worse, much worse, before it gets any better.”
Jackie Williams of the Riviera Foodbank said “We know of children who haven’t had a cooked meal for days and we have referrals coming in from social services, children’s services and many other agencies. Demand is sky high.”
“We are seeing professionals coming forward because despite their best efforts they cannot make ends meet and it is not just about food, it is things for the baby, things for the home and things like hygiene products. The list is growing.”
Like the Helpline, the foodbanks are busier now than at any time during the pandemic and like Kath Jackie fears what will happen in Winter: “They are struggling now, but what happens when it gets cold. If they can’t afford to heat up food, they cannot afford to heat themselves.”
“These are people that never had to ask for help before and believe me they do not like having to now. Like the mother of a one-year-old, she hated to admit that she needed us. Or the fifty-year-old who is working full time but still can’t make ends meet.”
The mother of the one-year-old is Michelle Bright, a part-time prison officer who lives in Torquay, who had to turn to the Riviera Life six months ago for help from both the food and baby banks around the time that she split from her partner.
“I was already in debt because of COVID, but when my partner left, then I had all the bills to cover by myself. I had to borrow money from my family, and they did what they could and still help where they can.”
But as a single mum, 23-year-old Michelle has only been able to work for two to three days a week with her son Arlo attending a nursery, but even that is now looking parlous because she owes the nursery £1800 – a sum of money she must find, before it is paid back in her benefits.
“It is all so difficult trying to work, keep house, be a mum and keep everything up and running and I suddenly recognised that I couldn’t.”
“At first I was ashamed until I realised I was doing everything I could and still could not afford everything that a baby needs. That is when I turned to Rivera for help with nappies and his food.”
“But like everyone, our food bills then started going through the roof – what was costing me £40 a week was suddenly costing me £80, but Riviera have been there for me. They are so kind.”
“Like so many people, I thought foodbanks were just for the homeless. They aren’t, and people need to appreciate what others are going through. I never thought it would be me, but it is and it could be you.”
Foodbanks themselves face unforeseen additional problems, including the rising costs of food they provide and higher bills to keep their premises open. They have also noted that the donations made by supermarket customers are of a lower value than before, indicating that they too feel the pinch.
The Helpline also needs more volunteer call handlers to keep up with the spiralling level of calls. Karen said: “The Helpline offers appropriate support to those who need it, by way of referral for specialist advice where necessary; however, we are experiencing very high levels of demand for services across the sector, with increases in waiting times during peak periods.”
“We are increasingly concerned that further increases in living costs, with no income increase, will likely cause serious crises for many local residents. We are doing everything we can. As a result, we need more help ourselves if anyone can spare a few hours a week.”
The volunteers all work from the comfort of their own homes, so if you can help or if you are in need of help, please contact the Helpline on 01803 446022, or use the online form at https://bit.ly/torbayhelpline
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