Rugby couple reveal ‘sheer hell’ of going hungry in Britain in 2012

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A COUPLE who were left with no option but to rely on food parcels from Rugby Foodbank have spoken of the “sheer hell” of facing starvation.

Steve Hyde and Ellie Wrigley are two of the hundreds of Rugbeians who have had to use the volunteer-led project this year to avoid going hungry. The foodbank, which relies on donations and volunteers coordinated by Rugby churches, has stepped in to save almost 400 people in Rugby from starvation, 135 of them children.

It was a mix-up with benefits that lead to Steve and Ellie facing eight weeks of having no income. Steve even resorted to pawning everyday household items in order to keep their home’s electricity and water supplies running.

He said: “When you are facing starvation you live in a different world. The normal rules you live by go out of the window, and what kicks in is survival instinct.

“We know from personal experience that when you put people in that position, they won’t let themselves go hungry, they will beg, steal, rob – basically do anything in order to survive. I have no idea what we would have done if the foodbank wasn’t there to help – I don’t want to imagine it.

“It’s terrifying. Your life spirals out of control because you can’t plan anything - all your thoughts and efforts go into scraping enough together to get by. You exist but you feel dead inside. You stop feeling alive.”

The number of people having to use the service in Rugby has gone up by 50 per cent during the summer holidays. Steve and Ellie’s situation forced Steve to sell items around the home such as a camera and cordless drill in order to scrape enough together to avoid starvation.

Steve added: “At the time I even thought about killing myself. I take medication for a heart condition and the thought of either stopping taking them, or taking an overdose, was always knocking about in the back of my head.

“Not having enough food was sheer hell.”

Steve said that initially he was reluctant to enquire about the service because pride got in the way.

He said: “The prospect of having to get free food felt awful. I felt so belittled and almost humiliated. But fortunately nobody at the foodbank was patronising. They didn’t judge me, they weren’t condescending and they didn’t pity me – which is what I feared most.”

After the eight weeks the authorities gave the couple their benefit entitlement, which was backdated, and since them Steve and Ellie have been donating food to the service themselves.

“Fortunately, I can look back on it now and feel like it made me a stronger person. We made a donation to the Food Bank this week. It just felt right after everything the service has done for us.”

The number of adults and children fed nationwide increased from 61,468 in 2010/11 to 128,697 in 2011/12 financial year. For many foodbank clients, the rising cost of food and fuel combined with static incomes, high unemployment and changes to benefits have forced them into a crisis where they cannot afford to eat.

The single biggest reason that people were referred to foodbanks was benefit delay (29 per cent), followed by low income (19 per cent). Other reasons for referrals include delayed wages, domestic violence, sickness, unemployment, debt, benefit changes, refused crisis loans, homelessness and absence of free school meals during school holidays. All those who received emergency food were referred by front line care professionals such as doctors, social workers and Citizens Advice Bureau.

Chris Mould, executive chairman of the Trussell Trust, which help coordinate foodbanks like Rugby’s, said: “Foodbanks are seeing people from all walks of life turning to us for help when they hit crisis. Every day we meet parents who are skipping meals to feed their children or even considering stealing to stop their children going to bed hungry. It is shocking that there is such a great need for foodbanks in 21st Century Britain, but the need is growing.”

For more information about Rugby Foodbank, see rugby.foodbank.org.uk, or call (01788) 553900.