OPINION:

Howard Wardle MBE, Eastbourne Foodbank CEO, said: “Many families across our town will have found the Christmas period a struggle financially, and for the increasing number already living in poverty, it will have been particularly hard.

“Thanks to donations from the community, we have been able to provide some additional Christmas treats, warm blankets, socks, hot water bottles, books, toiletry gifts for adults and toys for children. 

“We hope this offering will go some small way in easing the struggle families face and bring some comfort at Christmas.

“2022 has been a very busy year for all foodbanks and Eastbourne is no exception. In fact, in November we provided more than 2,700 food parcels.

“Too many people are having to turn to the foodbank as a first port of call when they experience financial crisis. We are actively campaigning for change and last year we called on decision makers locally to ease the hardship being faced by so many.

“We asked our local authority for a 100% reduction on council tax for those on the lowest income – something which happens in Lewes – and we would also like to see a more accessible crisis fund.

“In East Sussex it is difficult for people to access an emergency grant if they find themselves in crisis – whether that be a bereavement, redundancy or a broken boiler. At the moment, criteria for such funding are almost impossible to meet.

“Likewise, the Discretionary Housing Payment is a short-term measure giving people time to bridge the gap to either move to a cheaper property or increase their income, but with huge rent hikes across the town, finding cheaper housing is becoming almost impossible. This Discretionary Housing Payment has now run out until April, which is unprecedented.

“We therefore believe there needs to be more sustainable and accessible local support schemes, as part of our social security system, which people can call on at the most difficult times in their lives when they are struggling to afford food and essential bills such as rent and energy. This kind of emergency support should be available and accessible always – not just in times of national crisis.

“We understand we are living in incredibly challenging times and we hope to continue to work with our local authorities in 2023 and, together, explore ways we can help those living in poverty and try to ensure everyone has the benefits they are entitled to.

“On a national level, we stood with The Trussell Trust in 2022 and called for benefits to be uprated in line with inflation. We were pleased to see this was included in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement but as we head in to 2023, we will be urging the government to bridge the gap between now and April. We believe there should be a minimum income to protect people from destitution.

“2022 also saw us working ever more closely with our referral partners across Eastbourne to ensure we are working as collaboratively as possible as a community to make sure people receive the right support for their crisis.

“Foodbanks should be a last resort and we move into 2023 with hope that the situation can and will improve for people living in poverty. Foodbanks are not the answer. We will not allow this to continue, and we will actively work towards our goal of ending the need for large-scale foodbanks.  

“We are part of a wonderful community here in Eastbourne and we hope that we can all work together to create a better future. We would like to wish our clients, supporters and all the agencies and decision-makers we have been working with throughout 2022 a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and hopeful new year.”