WHEN the Bradford Metropolitan Food Bank was set up in 2006 the intention was to meet a short-term crisis need.
Nearly a decade later, the need for food parcels appears to be greater than ever, with an average of 1,000 going out from the charity each month.
Figures released by the food bank show the number of bags it hands out to people in need across the district has increased dramatically in recent years.
The hand-outs have almost doubled each year since 2011, when the charity gave out 1,434 parcels. In 2012 that increased to 3,586, in 2013 it gave out just under 8,000 bags - costing more than £100,000 - and last year the number hit a record 10,000.
"The current rate for the first eight months of this year is over 11,000, so the demand is still rising," says food bank volunteer Keith Thomson. "This is remarkably serious against the backdrop of less than 1,000 bags in 2010."
Changes to benefits and medical assessments and the growth of private sector renting, are some of the reasons for the rise in demand for food hand-outs, says Keith.
"Delays in benefit arrangements, sanctions for not keeping to over rigorous and unrealistic demands on applicants, such as the number of job applications each week, and the reassessment of people receiving support for medical and health reasons haven’t helped," he says.
"The problem will not be eased by the change over to Universal Credit in Bradford at the end of November, when benefits will be paid a month in arrears, and all housing benefit will go to the applicant, not the landlord. We anticipate difficulties as people learn to adjust. It does not seem to be an appropriate change with just one month to Christmas."
Keith adds: "Hospitals and relevant charities are coming across more people with mental health difficulties who are not coping, and are sometimes exploited.
"There is also evidence that more families are struggling to meet increased rents not covered by housing benefit. The growth of the private rented sector, following the sale of council social housing, and more recently the plans to sell housing association dwellings, isn't helping. The problem will only be solved when councils can borrow to build again, and remain the landlord with a controlled rent.
"This certainly explains the increase in homelessness. Children are being left without a home, particularly in areas where house prices are rising steeply and housing benefit fails to cover a greater part of the rent. There is no restriction on rent levels in privately rented properties.
"This is no way for children to be brought up; in cramped, inadequate conditions, divorced from their neighbourhood and friends, and with numerous changes of school."
The food bank anticipates more fall-out following the introduction of the Universal Credit system, which will see a single monthly payment for people in or out of work replacing existing benefits and tax credits.
"With its complexities, we anticipate even more problems in future when the rest of the benefit changes apply," says Keith. "In due course the minimum wage will be increased, but significantly this will not apply to people under 25, and neither will they qualify for housing benefit. Some of them will struggle.
"As a voluntary charity we had hoped to meet a crisis need, for a couple of years, then pull back as matters improved. It would seem that the current national policies will ensure that we have even greater need in the future - it will be a dismal decade."
Despite the pressures it faces, the food bank team is heartened by the support of Bradford businesses, schools and other organisations which make regular donations of food. Volunteers collect the non-perishable food from drop-off points and sort it into parcels which are distributed to people known to be in need.
"It's very helpful that the people of Bradford are so helpful, across the board, with churches, mosques, gurdwaras, places of work, schools and individuals all helping and responding magnificently," says Keith. "Last year their contributions allowed us to provide £150,000 worth of food, with four fifths in food form and the rest in money to buy items we were short of. I am very proud to be a member of a community that embraces those in need."
* For more about Bradford Metropolitan Food Bank, visit bradfordfoodbank.com