A reporting team from World Socialist Website spoke to workers donating, volunteering and using the Spiers Food Bank in Arbourthorne, Sheffield, about the cost of living crisis. Arbourthorne is a working-class neighborhood in a town formerly associated with the steel, engineering and mining industries, where 44% of children officially live in poverty.
Danielle Thorpe had to resort to food banks since February. She takes care of her husband who suffers from several debilitating illnesses. Danielle explained that although life has always been difficult for her and her family, she has struggled to cope financially over the past four months.
“I had a cut of over £200 a month in child and tax benefits. My eldest daughter has type 1 diabetes but doesn’t get any help, not even a bus pass, as she is said to be able to manage her condition. My husband and I have to drive to school and pick her up when she’s at her lowest and fainting. She starts university in September and we are going to lose our child benefits. She will live with us and we will have to support her.
“My husband had two security jobs at the same time to help make ends meet. He can no longer work. He has had knee replacement surgery and is waiting for a second. He has a spinal injury and he was attacked with a metal pole at work, causing brain damage. He is told that he can still work, do IT. It is impossible for him to work, but they continue to pressure him.
Fuel costs have been tough. The family is very cautious and does not use fuel unless absolutely necessary. Their groceries went from £30 a week to £60. The package of support measures announced last month by multi-millionaire Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, “is not going to fix the problem, it’s like putting a bandage on a big wound. It is degrading to have to rely on a food bank and I am even more sorry for those who work full time and still cannot afford to live. I see teachers and nurses here. They fight. This is a disgusting situation the government has put us in. They only care about the rich, not the poor.
Graham is retired and taking care of his wife. He has been visiting the food bank for three weeks.
“I currently live in sheltered accommodation. They bill me for heating, water and electricity every week. I got late with that. Previously it was £30 but last time it was £45. And I don’t use the electric oven either. I haven’t used it at all for a month. I owe a few people money, like British Telecom two or three years ago, it’s £1,200. “
Graham’s pension payment is just £185 a week, but like millions of others, it’s calculated to hit a threshold making him ineligible for further financial help. “I can’t get pension credit because I’m £2.50 over the limit.”
“Food prices have skyrocketed. I used to go to Asda to buy a loaf of bread for a pound, it’s £1.20 now. Milk, 99p, everything rises and I can’t afford it. I owe so much money and I have to pay it back, so I have to use food banks.
“Why don’t they reduce the prices for us? Alright, Chancellor says we’ll get £350 in November. It’s been six months. We need it now for fuel. And I’m not entitled to that extra £650 because I’m not means-tested. I am on a state basic pension and it is £2.50 over the pension credit limit.
“When I was working in the late 1970s and early 1980s I was making £400 a week. I was doing all sorts of things, but the main job was working in a British sugar factory in York. We had overtime. There was time, double time and triple time if we worked at Christmas. I used to make fencing panels and made close to £500 apiece.
“All these deputies [Members of Parliament] earning tens of thousands of dollars a year and getting paid all their allowances and expenses and we get nothing. Look at the chancellor, him and his wife. They are all the same. The worker will not be better off even if there is a Labor government. Labor will say, ‘We wouldn’t have done this or done that’, but if they actually come in, they won’t reverse any decisions the Tories have made. They are just as bad in my eyes.
slat had volunteered at the soup kitchen that preceded the food bank and recently found herself having to use it herself.
“I was volunteering before the food bank was set up about seven years ago for people who couldn’t afford a meal. And then we had the lockdown. So it was cancelled. We started making deliveries. Now with the cost of living, with everything going up, I had to use the food bank myself. I’ve never done this before, but you know, you can’t be proud or ashamed. If you want to eat, you have to ask for help.
Due to her predicament, Bladette got into debt. She was burdened with an exorbitant metering system for her gas and electricity bills.
“I just put a ten [£10] all the time. It used to be 20 pounds a fortnight, now it’s like that every other day. Even though I don’t use gas, I’m still billed every day. The meter was already there before I moved. I asked them to remove it but they said it would cost me hundreds of pounds to get it changed.
“I joined the cooperative [grocery store] after 6 hours, you know, looking for the discounted items. The first two times I felt really embarrassed. But I see that everyone is doing it now. So, I come home and I know what I’m eating the next day.
“Politicians are all for themselves. They can all afford cheese and wine at their office parties. I never even voted because I wouldn’t know where to start because they’re all the same. We feel very bad when a family comes to the food bank and there isn’t much left. Even people who were working and lost their jobs are now coming. »
Sue Cohen has health issues, including sleep apnea, asthma, and a heart condition. Her daughter, a single mother of four children, also has to resort to food banks.
“My electricity is chargeable. The amount I put in now has almost doubled. And my food bill doubled.
“Our ignorant government does not speak for us, that’s for sure. They speak for the rich. Once they can line their pockets, little people don’t care. However, we are the ones who move the country forward.
“I can’t even get pension credit because they say I get a little too much. And I mean a little too much. What happened to all the money my brother paid, my father paid, my mother paid? They all died before the age of 66.
Jo was in the army from 2006 to 2020 and has completed several tours in Northern Ireland and Afghanistan. He was visiting the food bank for the very first time.
“I am here because of the cost of living. I just can’t afford it. It’s degrading. It took me a few minutes to work up the courage to step out, just to admit you’re in the position.
“I barely pay the rent. I’m waiting for my first electricity bill, which I dread. ‘Cause I’m on Universal Credit [welfare payment]I can’t afford all these things.
“So I left the army and was a bit homeless. But then again, you’re just another veteran on the streets. I finally started getting the help I needed. I got an HLM apartment, but now I can’t afford to live in my apartment anymore, so I fight or go back to the streets.
“Everything is exploding, except the minimum wage. If you can’t afford to live and you can’t afford to eat, then that’s not living. Some people are enriched by the suffering of most people.
Paul retired from many jobs and had to use the food bank for the past six months.
“Everything is going uphill. And with this war in Ukraine, that hasn’t helped, so oil prices are going up, which is going up everything else.
“I think they should take money from the rich and give it to the poor. But while they let them off the hook, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.