Families with young children are going without basic toiletries and even toilet rolls this Christmas as those on benefits and low incomes struggle to keep up with the soaring cost of living, charities have warned.
Surging demand for basics like shower gel, shampoo, and sanitary towels has been reported to HuffPost UK by organisations working to help those considered to be living in an emerging “hygiene poverty”.
It comes as a leading charity, In Kind Direct, launched its Christmas appeal on Thursday to encourage big businesses to donate toiletries otherwise destined for landfill.
The Well foodbank in Wolverhampton, West Mids, has seen an increased demand for essential toiletries from those receiving its food parcels in recent months.
“I went to a house late on a Friday and when I got there was a mum with a disabled child and all she had in the house was half a loaf of bread,” The Well’s co-project leader Gary Price told HuffPost. “Once she saw the toilet rolls she started jumping up and down. She said ‘I haven’t even got any toilet rolls’.”
“I was quite shocked when I saw this lady so excited to see toilet rolls,” he added. “We just take that for granted.”
“The need in society is increasing,” Gary’s wife and fellow co-project leader, Caroline, added. “We’re feeding around 8,000 a year at the moment.”
The foodbank operates a delivery service over four days, with around 100 parcels distributed a week.
The service is preparing for a surge once Universal Credit is introduced across the city later this month. The reform has been blamed by campaigners for an increase in foodbank use and homelessness.
“We’re ready for it,” Caroline said. “We’ve taken on more space in case.”
It comes at a time when research suggests parents on benefits could be as much as £2,800 worse off a year by 2020 than they were in 2010, according to findings from the End Child Poverty coalition.
And as inflation, the pace at which the cost of goods is increasing, is currently running at 3%, above a target of 2%.
“The bread and eggs won, and she ended up having to go to public toilets to get loo roll”
Caroline explained how for many people, toiletries fall by the wayside when it comes to the final few pounds in people’s pockets.
“I have a friend who tells me she can remember not having any sanitary towels at all and having the choice of going to buy a loaf of bread and eggs to give her daughter or having sanitary towels,” Caroline said. “The bread and eggs won, and she ended up having to go to public toilets to get loo roll.”
Referrals to the service often highlight the specific need for loo rolls.
“We had one through this morning asking for toilet paper,” Caroline adds. “It’s on our form and we added toiletries because people started to specifically ask.”
“If we prompt it it’s less embarrassing for people, it must be mortifying for people,” she adds.
Helping those in crisis
It’s not just those with low incomes who are helped by essentials like soap and shampoo.
Alongside its foodbank operation, The Well also helps supply toiletries to The Haven, a local women’s refuge charity for those fleeing domestic violence.
Wrapped like presents, parcels of sanitary products, washes and soap are put together and delivered monthly to safe houses across Wolverhampton.
“Women often arrive at our refuges with nothing but the clothes on their backs, having had to flee at a moment’s notice for theirs and their children’s safety,” Jane Secker, Senior Community Fundraiser at The Haven, said.
“Toiletry boxes like these allow women to feel welcomed and secure when they arrive,” she added.
Natalie*, a service user at The Haven who regularly receives the boxes to support her and her children in refuge, said: “I had nothing when I came to refuge and I was so worried as I hadn’t had time to bring any essentials with me – I was worried about how I would wash the children and how we would clean our teeth.
“I was so thankful for the toiletry box that I was given – it had everything in there I could have needed, even the little things like a comb I was really grateful for it all.”
Meanwhile in Hammersmith, west London, mental health and homelessness charity the Barons Court Project also distributes toiletries to its service users.
“One of the most important things we offer those who are homeless is a shower,” Michael Angus, Barons Court Project’s director, said.
One service user, Mo, who chose not to provide his last name, explained how something as simple as a shower, with soaps and gels provided through In Kind Direct, can help restore confidence for those sleeping rough.
“You do think sometimes that as an adult you should need to look after yourself and somehow you’ve failed,” the 31-year-old said. “But coming here, having a shower, getting support, it helped.”
After a car accident in March, Mo subsequently lost his job at a supermarket and problems with getting sickness pay and benefits led to him losing his accommodation.
While sleeping rough with the occasional night in a car, Mo found support at the Barons Court Project to sort through problems applying for Universal Credit - and eventually to begin looking for somewhere to live.
The Project recently renovated its shower area after raising thousands for the work and separately for a new boiler.
“The thing about the shower here is, it’s like stepping into a hotel,” Mo said. “Without it you couldn’t survive. When you stay on the street for a certain amount of time the routine you have before starts to slip.
“Once it’s gone it’s hard to come back to it. A place like this is like a lifeline.”
“Once it’s gone it’s hard to come back to it. A place like this is like a lifeline”
[Find out more about The Barons Court Project and donate to its Christmas appeal here]
At its warehouse in Telford, Shropshire, In Kind Direct takes in surplus toiletries by the pallet, breaking them down and supplying them at a huge discount to charities like The Well and Barons Court Project.
On a recent weekday, the warehouse was coping with the delivery of more than 62,000 toilet rolls from Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Andrex.
The rolls were reserved by charities in a matter of days.
“It’s not just food that’s needed and that’s our message,” Robin Boles, In Kind Direct’s chief executive told HuffPost. “The essentials people take for granted are in demand.”
“And if you think, it’s all about dignity,” she added.
In Kind Direct already helps donate truckloads of surplus stock from huge manufacturers and retailers, such as Johnson & Johnson and web giant Amazon, to smaller charities and foodbanks. It’s not just toiletries either, with products including plates, toys and batteries in great demand too.
Research by the charity reveals that 97% of CEOs of big manufacturers have surplus stock – yet only 14% reprocess or recycle these, and less than half donate these products to charity, despite the fact three quarters of business leaders say they should.
In Kind Direct is now appealing for more big firms to come forward with stock left aside over the festive period.
“Surplus stock production peaks in December and January, a time of year when families are under most financial strain, in addition to struggling to afford essential personal hygiene products and food for their families,” Boles said.
“I’m saying to those employees of big companies, ask what happens to your surplus stock,” she added. “We’re there to make it easy for them. We can help make a real difference.”
*Natalie is a pseudonym.