Thousands of people are turning up at foodbanks across the north-east because they are struggling to feed their families.
In the third part of the Evening Express’s series on poverty across the city, we visited the Instant Neighbour foodbank on St Machar Drive to find out some of the challenges people face when it comes to being able to get food.
The charity’s foodbank has already seen more than 3,500 people pass through its doors this year, up from the full 12 months of 2018 when 2,100 people sought help to feed themselves and their families.
Other figures reveal the charity gave out 334 food parcels in July, compared to the same period last year when 257 were distributed. And the number of returns – people who make more than one visit to the site – is also up by 10% on last year.
Evan Adamson, who runs the service and has personal experience of applying for benefits, feels the increase is largely down to the roll-out of Universal Credit.
He said: “There are issues with Universal Credit, most obviously the wait for the first payment. A lot of it is about struggling to budget – Universal Credit is monthly rather than fortnightly.
“It’s also more just the change in the system and the change in the expected responsibilities on clients.
“If there are any issues they are expected to get in touch, the information isn’t just given to them.
“Clients are required to be pro-active on every aspect of their benefits claim, not just looking for work but pro-active in finding out what they might be entitled to. That is a massive change to the old system.”
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Universal Credit was fully rolled out across the city in October, and by May 2019, 6,350 people were receiving the benefit in Aberdeen.
A large proportion of foodbank clients are adult men in their 30s and 40s living on their own.
Evan claims the rise in the national minimum wage – available to people aged 25 and over – has had an impact on the number of older men being hired for vacant roles.
He knows first hand the problems people can have navigating the benefits system, after he found himself homeless and sleeping under a bridge in the city.
“I was unemployed for almost 18 months,” Evan said. “I had left the family home and had a business and lost that. That’s when I found out single men have no priority with housing.
“I was sleeping under Union Terrace Bridge. I got myself into a homeless shelter and then it closed and I managed to get a bedsit.”
Many people who visit the foodbank have also found themselves in debt or council tax arrears, with several also suffering addiction.
Clients often come from Woodside, Rosehill and Northfield, but the foodbank has also offered food and support to people from Inverurie, Peterculter and Bridge of Don.
Evan, who was employed by the charity after applying for more than 1,000 jobs, said: “The holidays are a difficult time for parents and we get a huge percentage of families using us.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokekswoman said: “The reasons people use foodbanks are complex. Universal Credit is a force for good, with 2.2 million people now being supported by the benefit.
“People can get their first payment on day one of their claim as an advance, budgeting advice is available and we continue to make improvements.”