A London host from a Ukrainian family has written to her local food bank ‘asking for help’ as rising energy costs mean she can no longer afford to feed her new guests.
The Ukrainian family, who now come weekly to a food bank in Euston, north London, are among a growing number of refugees recently arrived from the war-torn country who depend on aid to survive, organizations say charities.
Euston Food Bank manager Helena Aksentijevic said the Ukrainian family gave her the letter. It was from the host and said they were struggling to cover the extra cost of feeding two women and two children, as well as the extra energy costs.
Aksentijevic said the system was “a mess” and the number of Ukrainian refugees visiting the food bank, which had seen a 300% increase in visitors since the start of the pandemic, was increasing rapidly.
Under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, refugees are entitled to an interim payment of £200 for living expenses, provided by their local council, and can apply for benefits, including universal credit, pension credit, invalidity benefit, care allowance and child benefit. However, some say their access to benefits has been delayed because they have not yet received biometric residence permits. The government denies this.
Sponsors can claim £350 per month from the government. They don’t have to feed the refugees, but many do.
Most Ukrainians who go to food banks are women with children, but Aksentijevic said they were also visited by a teenager. “I can only see us attracting more and more people from this community,” she said.
The Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan) and the Trussell Trust, which together represent hundreds of food banks, report that newly arrived Ukrainians are seeking help to feed their families.
Ifan said he created Ukrainian versions of his reference leaflets in the Highlands and Carlisle.
Sabine Goodwin, Ifan’s coordinator, said: “A fit-for-purpose social security system would be able to support Ukrainian refugees struggling to feed themselves.”
Meanwhile, amid a growing cost of living crisis, food banks are already struggling to meet the needs of people across the UK. Research from the Food Network revealed earlier this month that 93% of its members reported an increase in the 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 that “there is a long way to go before people in the UK United can count on accessible financial assistance in times of crisis”.
A refugee living alone in emergency accommodation in Exeter said she visited a food bank after losing her Homes for Ukraine sponsor. She said she was “greatly welcomed” and helped to choose her food.
Sutton4Ukrainians, a support group, said 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 enough. .
A spokesperson said the council’s £200 interim subsistence payment was insufficient. “It’s not a huge sum – public transport is expensive,” they said, adding that often refugees wanted to be independent.
Lifeafterhummus Community Benefit Society in North London has worked with several Ukrainian refugees who have visited its outdoor food surplus cart. One family said they were sponsored but did not have access to food. Lifeafterhummus also provided the refugees with cooking materials.
Farrah Rainfly, the group’s chief operating officer, said the Ukrainian refugee problem added to the current cost of living crisis. “I have families who come to me in tears and say, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.'”
A government spokesperson said: “We do not acknowledge these reports – Ukrainians can access benefits immediately without a biometric test and will receive an additional payment of £200 while they are processed.
“Translation services are available to help with telephone claims, meet points have been set up to assist arrivals and we are in constant contact with the councils who provide additional support for the small number of Ukrainians. who might need more help.”