THE NUMBER of people using Weymouth Food Bank has increased fourfold over the past year, according to the latest figures.
And organisers say the unprecedented rise is set to increase further.
Nearly 1,200 people relied on the food bank in 2013 compared to just 330 people in 2012.
During the first four months of 2014 over 430 referrals were made to Weymouth Food Bank, marking a 35 per cent increase compared to last four months of 2013.
Weymouth Food Bank coordinator Bob Mockett said: “The past rises were big increases and I think we won’t be far off double the number of people using the service this year.”
Fellow coordinator Lily Mockett said: “We have had a massive increase in people coming to us last year, and this year, on the whole. The situation is getting worse, not better.”
The news comes as a national report was released by Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty last week.
The Below the Breadline report revealed Dorset’s Trussell Trust food banks alone provided 9,982 people with three days’ emergency food between April 1 2013 and March 31 2014.
In the South West, there has been a 77.25 per cent rise in those using food banks, with 105,521 people now using the service.
The report also investigated reasons behind huge rises in people using food banks and suggested increased benefit sanctions were a major factor.
In the document, the Trussell Trust estimated 49 per cent of those referred to food banks had to use them due to problems with social security payments or because they were refused a crisis loan.
Weymouth Food Bank is run entirely by volunteers and is supported by donations from 10 churches, giving food to people with referral vouchers.
Speaking about the dramatic rise in food bank use, Mrs Mockett criticised David Cameron and said the Government’s slogan that ‘we are all in this together’ was hypocritical because increasing numbers of people are living in poverty while the Prime Minister lives in comparable luxury.
She said: “It’s ridiculous. I really don’t understand what this government are doing.
“Some of the people using our service have had their benefits stopped, or have lost their jobs and are unemployed and have nothing to get by on.
Mrs Mockett said under-employment was also a big issue for the people who use Weymouth Food Bank. We get people who are on 16 hours and they can’t live on what they get for 16 hours.
“They are supposed to get some top up but that takes six weeks to come through and what can they do until then?
“They have no security – they can be working this week and not the next so they have to go through the paperwork process again and again.
“There should be something actually at the Job Centre that can give them this money.”
Cllr Francis Drake, Weymouth and Portland Borough Council’s spokesman for social inclusion, said: “Food bank use is rising because people are struggling to afford things, which is also why they are turning to cheaper places to buy their food.
“The country is in a terrible state and the Government is stopping a lot of payments to try to save money, but as a result people are struggling. If you have a household income and then all of a sudden it stops what would you do? You’d have to turn to food banks.”
Reacting to the fact that food banks like the one in Weymouth were funded by donations and run by volunteers, he said: “There’s got to be more money invested in services like food banks. It might come to the fact that the council might have to help the food banks with money. I hope it doesn’t have to come to that but it’s a possibility.”
One mum who started using the food bank earlier this year said: “When it was first suggested that I use the foodbank I was horrified. I work but my husband was made redundant last year and suddenly the bills just mounting up.
“I felt ashamed that I couldn’t feed my family properly but here are so many people in the same situation. We are not lazy and we are not scroungers. We don’t want handouts but it is a godsend at the same time.
“Having said that I can’t wait until we don’t have to use it and we can pay our own way.”
For more information on Weymouth Food Bank or to donate, please call 07531 167465.
• Allowance sanctions the highest since 1996
Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions showed 874,850 Jobseekers Allowance sanctions have been applied under new polices since October 2012, which is the highest amount ever recorded in a 12-month period for JSA claimants since the allowance was introduced in 1996.
But over half – 58 per cent – of benefit sanctions that were challenged between October 2012 and September 2013 were successfully appealed at independent tribunal, suggesting those who used food banks because their benefits payments were stopped may have been able to avoid having to rely on food banks altogether.
• Shop gets ready to back charity
Despite the ever-increasing rise in the number of people using food banks in Weymouth, businesses in the community are rallying round to help Weymouth Food Bank cope with demand.
Steve Jones, manager of Sainsbury’s in Weymouth, said the supermarket is keen to get involved in organising donations for the food bank.
He said: “It’s a great way for us to help the community and we would love to help out.
“Donating food is equally as important as putting money in a collection tin or donating, so it should be thought of in the same way as making other charity donations.
“It’s an important way for the community to help itself.”