More Stirling residents – including those in work – are turning to foodbanks for help amid rising fuel bills and the soaring cost of living.
Leading local foodbank charity Start Up Stirling said this week around 240 new referrals since the start of the year are fuel related.
The charity supports an average of 400 people each week – a third of them children. That rose to 500 over the festive period – with children accounting for 38 per cent.
But 2022 is already seeing new people coming forward seeking support.
Amid soaring food prices and record inflation, the coming months are expected to see average energy bills rise to around £2,000 per year – a 50 per cent increase on last year – and a rise in the energy price cap.
According to charity National Energy Action, up to two million more households across the UK will be pushed into fuel poverty – bringing the total to 6 million, almost a quarter of all UK households.
Start Up Stirling communities and fundraising manager Julie Christie said: “The combination of higher fuel and food bills is having an impact. We are beginning to receive more referrals because of fuel poverty.
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“In January, we received 302 referrals for crisis food – and approximately 80 per cent of those were because of fuel issues.
“Crisis food provides them with some breathing space to help to get the advice that they need to get their fuel issues sorted out.
“When your budget only covers the basics, when costs start to rise for food or fuel, then it does become an issue as to where you put your resources.
“The choices for some of the people that we support can be stark – especially when people are still having to isolate due to Covid, as this tends to push fuel bills up.”
Last year was already challenging, seeing the charity provide 128,844 meals – a rise on 2020 figures, which increased massively due to the Covid pandemic – but figures have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
“We are also seeing more people in work seeking our services to help them in these difficult times,” said Julie.
“We are working closely with our referral partners to make sure that as well as providing crisis food support, people are also receiving help to sort out any fuel arrears that they may have.”
While local support is still as strong as ever, demand is rising.
“The people who live in our communities are still incredibly generous and continue to support our crisis food service through our donation stations,” said Julie.
“However, from early autumn last year, we had to start to buy essentials, like beans, which we have never had to do before.
“With rising referral rates, this also led to us having to buy more fresh food too, which people can’t leave in donation stations. That, and having to return to a home delivery model when Omicron arrived, also had an impact on the fuel bills for our vans.
“We cover the entirety of the Stirling Council area with the service, so the rise in food and fuel costs has meant the cost of providing the Crisis food service has also risen.”
Because of Covid, some people chose to support the charity financially by providing a regular monthly donation, or one-off financial donations, so the charity could use the funds where they needed it most.
“This really helps us a lot, and each donation makes a big difference to what we do,” said Julie.
The charity, however, is remaining stoic in the face of testing times.
“Even at the height of the pandemic in 2020, where in cases the amount of people that we were supporting was over 100 per cent more than it had been in 2019, we rose to the challenge and everyone that was referred to us was supported.
“The number of referrals at the start of 2022 has risen again, and we have two vans delivering food parcels in the morning and afternoon, four days a week. We have been able to cope thanks to the hard work of our volunteers.
“We will always do everything that we can to support people living in hardship throughout the Stirling Council area.”
The charity continues to work with 33 referral partners – available on their website – to support people who need its help.
Julie added: “We don’t take direct referrals, but you can ring the office Tuesday-Friday, 9am until 3pm for advice. If you need help, please do not wait. We are here to help.”
Those who can help Start Up Stirling can continue donating dried or canned foods at donation stations across the area or consider a regular financial donation via its website. People can also like and share posts on Twitter and Facebook to highlight Start Up’s fundraising campaigns, challenges and appeals.
Stirling MP Alyn Smith said: “Families and residents all over Stirling face huge cost of living pressures – with energy taking up a large chunk of household budgets.
“Combined with the looming increase in National Insurance Contributions, cuts to social security, spiking inflation and rising food prices, there’s real economic hardship spreading out there.
“The UK Government must urgently intervene in the broken energy market to protect consumers from these crippling price increases.”