'We budget but we haven’t enough to cover food'

Food bank
Image caption,

The Trussell Trust distributed more than 24,500 food parcels to people in Bradford in 2023

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With the general election campaign well under way, it's no surprise one of the key issues dominating headlines so far is the cost of living.

A constituency that has felt the pinch more than most is Bradford West. It has the most people claiming benefits in Yorkshire, and ranks eighth among constituencies in the UK, according to the latest Office for National Statistics data.

That hardship is reflected in the number of people in the constituency who rely on food banks.

“Pre-Covid we were feeding about 4,500 people, whereas last year we fed 16,000, so it’s more than tripled,” said Josie Barlow, manager at Bradford Central Foodbank.

In June 2019, 4,035 people were claiming state benefits in Bradford West – but that number more than doubled over the next five years.

Proportionally, the percentage of the population in Bradford West claiming benefits currently stands at 11% - the fourth highest rate in the country.

It is closely followed by Bradford East, where 10.5% of the local population claims benefits.

“If you’re on Universal Credit that shows you’re on a low income, whether that’s through unemployment or not earning very much money," explains Ms Barlow, who says current data “just shows the level of deprivation” that exists in the city.

Image caption,

Josie Barlow, manager at Bradford Central Foodbank, said demand for food had surged since 2019

Aqib Khan, 32, from Bradford, has two children, aged three and 16 months.

He has been visiting Bradford Central Foodbank since he lost his job at Marks and Spencer.

“I’ve seen a lot of things get a lot worse because there’s no jobs going,” says Aqib, who had been working consistently for three years before he lost his job.

“I’m applying for jobs - but benefits don’t give you that much. When you have children, it’s very hard to support them.

“Everything is really hard, and people are left with limited money to support their families.”

Image caption,

Aqib Khan, 32, says he is struggling to find work

Rebecca Mytom, 34, lost her administrative role in December, and has so far been unable to find another job. She is finding similar roles now require a degree.

“We budget, but this month, unfortunately, we haven’t had enough to cover food,” she says.

“I’ve applied for many administrative positions - because that’s what I’ve done since I was 16 - but I can’t get anywhere because they’re wanting bachelor's degrees.”

Image caption,

Rebecca Mytom says despite budgeting, having enough money for food is sometimes not possible

'Shocking increase'

“Bradford has long been one of the most deprived areas of the country - with high levels of poverty driven by a wide range of factors, including a lack of good-quality employment opportunities, old and energy-inefficient housing, and above-average levels of ill health," says Helen Barnard, director of policy and research at the Trussell Trust.

“All this means that the inadequacy of social security has a heavy impact on people in Bradford - leaving many unable to afford essentials.

“Our recent stats show that last year, food banks in the Trussell Trust network in Bradford distributed more than 24,500 emergency food parcels to people facing hardship in Bradford.

“This is a shocking 165% increase compared to five years ago - and our figures are just part of the picture, with many independent food banks or community projects operating in the area to support people.”

Ms Barlow thinks politicians are not giving universal credit the attention it deserves.

“I think, unless you’ve actually lived through it, I don’t think you can ever really understand,” she said.

“Nobody's talking about Universal Credit, and how hard it is for people on Universal Credit - which is 6.5 million people in this country.”

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust, external suggests people need £120 a week as a minimum to live.

Currently, Universal Credit gives single people under 25 approximately £78 a week; single people over 25 receive £98 a week.

Couples under 25 receive around £122 a week, but couples where at least one of them is over 25 are entitled to approximately £154 a week.

Full list of candidates in Bradford West:

Imad Ahmed - Liberal Democrats

Umar Ghafoor - Independent

Jamie Hinton-Wardle - Reform UK

Akeel Hussain - Independent

Muhammed Islam - Independent

Khalid Mahmood- Green

Nigel Moxon - Conservative

Naz Shah - Labour