“I haven’t visited a foodbank before,” the man said as a microphone hovered overhead and cameras swung to face him, “But I have known people that have. And the vast majority of them that do go for free food, smoke, drink and have Sky television.”
Airing his opinion on a recent episode of BBC Question Time, the man seemed unbothered by his fellow audience members’ reaction to his claim.
But as Trussell Trust chief executive David McAuley wrote soon after, “you can’t just turn up at a foodbank’s doors because you spent all your money on Sky TV.” Most people are referred through job centre advisors or GPs.
And here, three people who have used foodbanks share their stories, from the sudden turn of events that shook one woman’s life upside down to a family that hit tough times.
I was working full-time hours as a nurse and of course I had Sky, I had everything that you needed.
Then I had two strokes.
I didn’t have sick pay because I was casual bank staff. So then I thought: ‘How am I going to do this?’ I went through with the social security but it takes six weeks to get that sorted. Then everything was running lower and lower and lower. I still had money from my last wage but it was trying to get the bills paid.
I was getting anxious, I had depression. I had to cancel Sky, I cancelled my phone, my life insurance. I had to get rid of my car. My whole lifestyle changed.
For somebody who had been working from the age of 16, all my life, and then just being hit with this. It knocked me for six.
Financially I couldn’t do a loan. I had seen someone had shared the advertisement of my local foodbank. It ended up being my only choice.
I can remember driving in and sitting in the car. I came down and sat in the car for a good 15, 20 minutes, not knowing should I go in, should I not? Then I finally plucked up the courage and walked in and really the welcome that I got was just magnificent.
I was crying, I felt so low, I felt awful I was taking this food and they were reassuring me. I basically could have come in off the street as anyone but it was genuine, I just needed this bit of help until the benefits kicked in and things became better for me.
A lot of people don’t seem to know the circumstances behind foodbanks. A lot of people’s perception is that someone just walks in off the street, gets food and then goes home. But it’s not like that, there’s a lot more behind the scenes. Those who think that need to go and see for themselves outright what it’s like.
It is so emotional.
People like myself who had a good job and due to health had this happen. You feel degraded going there, but those who stand back and judge really shouldn’t. Foodbanks are there to help.
It was just tiding me over, I wasn’t going every week or anything like that. This food was to tie us over for so many days - and it was how you dealt with that food for so many days.
They told you how you could make a meal with this that and the other. It showed me how not to waste food and how to budget. Financially they got me advice on the debts that I needed help with. They helped with my depression.
They really did pull me out.
The film ‘I Daniel Blake’ really sums up my experience - it really hits the nail head on with what it’s really like for people.
I remember hearing about a type of foodbank years ago when my parents had to use one so I just thought this could be the answer for me.
I want to see the government giving us more help - the biggest thing is the benefits cuts. People are really struggling.
It wasn’t a comfortable sensation, walking into the foodbank. I didn’t know what kind of reception I’d get - would they be snooty? Rude? Would they try to make me squirm with embarrassed gratitude? Not a bit of it. They were efficient but polite; kind but not patronising.
We’d been forced there after mounting debts became too difficult to ignore.
I struggled home on foot with the food parcels - we’d long since been unable to keep a car - because I honestly hadn’t known how much food to expect. A couple of tins of beans was about my best guess.
Worried that turning up with a carrier bag might come across as a bit greedy, I’d gone along with no means of carrying food. It turned out they supply three days’ food per person.
Luckily, carrier bags were included.
When I got home, I laid all the food items out on the table, arranging them for maximum impact. I still get a lump in my throat when I recall the looks on the kids’ faces when they saw it. Only the night before, the family had dined on four packets of noodles after scraping together 80p by fishing down the back of the sofa.
I can’t claim that food saved our lives. I can’t even claim that a single visit to the foodbank turned everything around. We ended up going again, a couple of weeks later.
But it was the beginning of the end of our problems.
Without the foodbank I don’t know where we’d all be today. What they gave us was far more significant than a few bags of groceries. Removing one problem, albeit temporarily, allowed us to get to grips with others. And the psychological boost cannot be overestimated.
Foodbank users don’t come from some conveniently despicable underclass of scrounging riffraff. What happened to us could happen to almost anybody. I think there are two types of people: Those who have needed a foodbank, and those who might need one in the future.
Someone who’s convinced foodbanks aren’t necessary is either deficient in empathy, and far more financially secure than the millions of average people in this country, or is dangerously bereft of imagination, and supremely unqualified to judge.
*Dom is a pseudonym.
I had been working at Chester Zoo after being told I had to take the job. It was only seasonal work and then they finished me because it was the end of the summer. I had to go and sign on the dole. But it took them over five weeks to pay me.
I had nothing, no money, no gas, no electric, no nothing. In the end, I tried to commit suicide. It didn’t work.
The job centre told me to go to the foodbank. I had no bus fare so I couldn’t carry anything. I just had my hands. I got talking to someone at the Trussell Trust and they helped.
I was sent there because I had nothing for five weeks.
People think ‘you must have had something’, but I had nothing. I live on my own, in the middle of nowhere, I don’t have any family or anything around me, my daughter lives in Wales. I had nothing. That’s why I wanted to just end it all.
I felt embarrassed, in this day and age it’s like begging for something. They were all so kind, they made a cup of tea and gave me a biscuit. But it’s like begging for food.
You get a week’s grace of nothing because you’ve supposed to have been in work - I was only paid £700 a month and my rent was £400.
As for Sky? I don’t even have a television. I just listen to audio books. It would cost me £100 just to get an aerial in.
That said, the walk is really hard for me. I couldn’t make it often. I don’t really eat - I live on beans and toast and stuff like that. I can’t afford a meal.
Foodbanks saved my life - without them I wouldn’t be here now and I know I wouldn’t.
What’s sad is that it’s 2017 and it’s like the olden days - begging for food.
It’s necessary and it’s sad that it has to be. People have pride in themselves but you have people going in begging for food. The government needs to change, it’s just making people feel so low and taking their pride away.
When you have to feed your children this way, it’s just wrong.
Donna, Dom’s and Maria’s comments have been edited for clarity and length.