Doncaster suffers from above average unemployment and the Council has compounded the situation by reducing their employees by many hundreds over the last three years, and announcing recently that approximately a further twelve hundred jobs are to be lost as a result of the reduction of £109 million in Government funding.
Against this background, coupled with the desperate situation many people find themselves in when trying to heat their homes, members of Unite Community, along with members of other protest groups in Doncaster, namely Doncaster Against the Cuts and the Doncaster Peoples Assembly decided to highlight the situation by setting up a Food Bank in the town centre on one Saturday in November.
The intention initially was to bring the issue of people having to choose between heating the home or feeding themselves. However, the response we received was shocking with a number of people bringing heartbreaking stories of poverty and hunger, often brought about through Draconian unfair sanctions placed upon them by the employment service or unfair medical assessments that ruled severely disabled people we’re fit for work.
Consequently, from mid November members of Unite Community have operated a Food Bank in Doncaster town centre every Saturday and the number of people using this has increased week on week. The finance for the Food Bank has come from a range of sources. Initially we had collections at various group meetings, but as we have become more prominent we have had donations from members of the public. These have been in the form of either cash donations or food donations.
There already exists several Food Banks in Doncaster but these have strict rules on who can use them, often only through a referral from the employment service, and on the number of times in a year they can be used. Our view is that if someone is so desperate that they have to use a Food Bank restricting them to four times a year, which I believe some do, is ridiculous and so we have no restrictions on usage.
This policy however does place great pressure on our limited resources and we were grateful that the Doncaster branch of Unite recently agreed to provide additional funds to support our activities.
We recognise that our activities will have a limited impact on the total number of people in Doncaster who are suffering hardship, but while ever we have the finance to continue we will make at least some inroads into addressing the consequences of the unfair and cruel policies that are putting so many people at risk.