Ukrainian refugees turn to food banks as UK hosts struggle with costs | food bank

A London hostess from a Ukrainian family has written to her local food bank “asking for help” because rising energy costs mean she can no longer afford to feed her new guests.

The Ukrainian family, who now go weekly to a food bank in Euston, north London, are among a growing number of newly arrived refugees from the war-torn country who rely on donations to survive, according to charities. .

Helena Aksentijevic, manager of the Euston food bank, said the Ukrainian family had given her the letter. She was from the host and said they were struggling to cover the additional cost of feeding two women and two children, as well as additional energy costs.

Aksentijevic said the system was “a mess” and that the number of Ukrainian refugees coming to the food bank, which had seen a 300% increase in visitors since the start of the pandemic, was rising rapidly.

Under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, refugees are eligible for an interim payment of £200 towards living costs, provided by their local council, and can apply for benefits, including the universal credit, pension credit, disability benefits, carers allowance and child benefit. However, some say their access to benefits has been delayed because they have not yet received biometric residency permits. The government denies it.

Backers can claim £350 per month from the government. They don’t have to feed the refugees, but many do.

Most of the Ukrainians who come to the food banks are women with children, but Aksentijevic said a teenager also visited. “I can only see us getting more and more people from that community,” he said.

The Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan) and the Trussell Trust, which represent hundreds of food banks, report that newly arrived Ukrainians are seeking help to feed their families.

Ifan said that he had created Ukrainian versions of his reference brochures in Highlands and Carlisle.

A family who fled Ukraine arrive at Luton Airport
A family who fled their home in Oblast arrive at Luton Airport to meet their host. Many hosts are experiencing increased financial pressures. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Sabine Goodwin, Ifan coordinator, said: “A social security system that is fit for purpose could help Ukrainian refugees struggling to buy food.”

Meanwhile, amid a growing cost of living crisis, food banks are already struggling to meet the needs of people across the UK. Research by the food network found earlier this month that 93% of its members reported an increase in need for services since the start of the year, while more than 80% reported problems with food supplies.

Goodwin said the new cost-of-living crisis measures announced last week by Chancellor Rishi Sunak were welcome, but added “there is a long way to go before people in the UK can count on financial help.” accessible in a time of crisis”.

A refugee living alone in emergency accommodation in Exeter said she had visited a food bank after losing her Homes for Ukraine sponsor. She said that she was “very well received” and that they helped her choose the food.

Sutton4Ukrainians, an advocacy group, said that one in three refugees they meet go to food banks, many because they are waiting to access benefits or because the money they have is not coming in far enough.

A spokesman said the council’s provisional £200 subsistence payment was insufficient. “This is not a large amount, public transport is expensive,” they said, adding that refugees often wanted to be independent.

Lifeafterhummus Community Benefit Society in North London has worked with a number of Ukrainian refugees who have visited their outdoor surplus food cart. One family said they were being sponsored but had no access to food. Lifeafterhummus has also provided the refugees with cooking kits.

Farrah Rainfly, the group’s operations manager, said the Ukrainian refugee problem added to the existing cost-of-living crisis. “I have families who come to me crying and saying, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.'”

A government spokesman said: “We do not recognize these reports: Ukrainians can access benefits immediately without biometric proof and will receive an additional payment of £200 while they are processed.

“Translation services are available to help with phone applications for benefits, welcome points have been set up to help arrivals, and we are in constant contact with councils providing further support to the small number of Ukrainians who may need further assistance.” .

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