Below are extracts of conversations we have had with the people we help, that give a sense of the reality of poverty in Maidenhead. For a wider feel of what poverty means to the people in the UK who endure it, see the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report Austerity in the UK.
Details have been changed or omitted only where they might identify the family. What does it say about the society we live today that people in poverty to feel the need to hide their identity?
Lilly knocked timidly on the door of the Foodshare Centre, about 15 minutes after we had finished distributing the Foodbank parcels on a Saturday. She was so hungry she was shaking. When we saw how deeply she needed help, we opened the door and she hobbled in. Five minutes later, she had devoured two pieces of fruit and a refridgerated pastie and started to get colour back in her face.
Lilly is homeless. She is articulate, well spoken and we found her very pleasant company. Four years ago, she and her husband divorced acrimoneously. During the divorce, it transpired her husband had put the family house in his name, and he asked her to leave. She had no family to go to and no-one else to help. She was unaware that she might have had a statutory entitlement to the home. She has been living on the streets ever since then. At the moment, she sleeps in a tent as out of sight as possible.
Her foot is damaged. She says she was told she has athlete's foot. But she is in a considerable amount of pain and it is clear her foot is far more injured than she thinks. Her physical wound has been well cared for, with clean and new bandage. She is not able to wear socks, and hobbles around in flip-flops. By contrast, her psychological wounds and housing needs have been completely disregarded. She is immensely frustrated at the moment. She has no idea how she can get back into society. She has lots of ideas, but no means of putting any of them into practice. She has now given up hope of ever finding a home.
Family 1 is a father, mother and three children. Dad is working, but mum is a full time mum with 3 children, 5, 3 and 11 months. They have moved to Maidenhead because of work but find it very expensive. They have no family around to help or support them. They live on £1,000 a month. They pay rent of £895. then have bills to pay on top of that and petrol to take the husband to and from work. They are unable to get a Housing Solutions house or housing benefits as they earn to much. Mum is unable to work due to having the children. She has looked at working but the cost of childcare would eat up any wage she has. Until they started receiving food from us they very often didn't eat for days at a time, making sure that the children had food and clothing. They are unable to obtain much help.
Family 2 is a mother, partner and two children. The children are aged 6 and 3. Dad is looking for work having been made redundant over 2 years ago, both are on Job Seekers Allowance and get various benefits. The rent is paid for them as is the council tax. They live on £300 a month. They pay for gas, electricity and transport to various interviews. They have in past before getting the various benefits run up debts which they have to pay back from the money they have. One of the debts is rent arrears which they must pay so that they don't loose their house. Again, until they received our food they didn't eat every day. When given the Sainsbury's giftcard of £10.00 she turned to her 3 year old son who was there and said 'tonight we all get to eat'.
Family 3 is a mother, partner and one child. The child is aged 2 1/2. Dad is unable to get work and has been unemployed for over 4 years. mum was a hairdresser but gave up when had the child. The child was premature and has bowel problems which mean hospital visits on a very regular basis and needs constant supervision which means that mum can not return to work. Mum also looks after partners mum who is alone and disabled. They live in a flat which is causing various health problems to child but can not get anywhere else to live. Council unable to help and can not move them as they don't have the properties. They live on £50 a week to pay all bills and transport to and from hospital. Before getting our food they often fed only their daughter on a balanced diet and themselves if they had any spare money would eat one meal a day which was often beans on toast. Once eating beans on toast every evening for just under 2 weeks.
Family 4 is a mother, partner and one child. Mum is a teenager, and her son is 2 years old. Mum is 6 months pregnant with another child. They are in temporary accommodation and live on £30 a week. The dad is unable to get work due to a criminal record and mum is looking for work but can't get any due to being pregnant. Their benefits keep getting stopped as dad sometimes is to late to 'sign on' as he needs to get to Maidenhead from Windsor to do so. (All benefits at Maidenhead as this is where they normally live but only accommodation was in Windsor). Mum's mum is on basic pension and unable to support them and dad's parents have not been involved in his life since he was a young teen. Without our food they would not eat (food parcel given to mums mum to take to Windsor). £30 pays for all bills, gas electricity, clothing and food. They are seeking other support but have been told this would take at least 6 weeks to come through.
Edith came to us in a desperate state, not having eaten for several days and neither had her school-age children. When I say Edith came to us, in fact it was her friend because Edith was too embarassed and ashamed to get help. Her partner of many years had been suddenly admitted to rehab for alcoholism and being the sole breadwinner the family's income simply dried up. (I understand he had had a long-term illness for quite some time). They lived in rental accommodation so their tenancy was immediately at risk. Edith and her children would quite simply have continued to go without food had it not been for Foodshare. While benefits have come through now, it's very little compared to the income that was formerly received, and it continues to be difficult to make ends meet. Edith has learned to trust us in the weeks she's been coming to us, and is now happy to see us and engage with us.
Nellie is in her fifties though looks in her thirties. She was very articulate and well dressed when she first came to see us. A trained surgeon, she was a housewife for about 10 years if I recall correctly when her bread-winner husband walked out on her and took their savings with him. Temporarily she had no income and again, without Foodshare, would have gone hungry until benefits came through. She was already applying for jobs when we first saw her. We assume she got a job and things sorted themselves out as we saw her only twice. She was effusive about the role Foodshare was playing and was so grateful for the help it gave her.
Adrian was on long-term benefit and if we recall correctly, was receiving about £56 per week to live on, his rent being paid for separately by Social Services. He'd managed to get himself into debt and had a court order made against him to pay the money back at a slow rate, but this had the effect of reducing the £56 further. Health problems prevented him working. He welcomed the Foodshare as without it he said he would have little food each week.
Sheila's situation was similar to Nellie's above. Her husband walked out on her and her three school-age children, taking the money with him and refusing to help her out. Though being pursued by the authorities to provide maintenance, it was taking time for this to produce a result. In the meantime, it was very difficult trying to continue to live in a similar way to before, and without Foodshare it would be even more difficult. Foodshare was very much appreciated.
Paul and his wife came to us after he lost his job. For many weeks they lived off their savings until these ran out and eventually they were forced to seek help from Social Services. They did not want to come to us but had no choice. We saw them only twice. Our presumption was that after that benefits began to come through and there was no further need of our help.
Mary came to us after her husband lost his job. She came for at least 8 weeks as I recall then one day declared with great happiness that he had managed to find another job and they wouldn't need us any more! She was so grateful of our help and overjoyed that her husband found another job.
Family 1 is a mother with one child. The mother is separated from her husband who went off with another woman. She met her husband in the USA and came to this country to marry him. She is not allowed to take the child back to the USA where she could live with her family. Her husband is dragging out the divorce settlement. She is struggling to pay the rent, heating, do her part-time job and and provide food and clothing for her son. We are helping them with food parcels.
Family 2 is a mother with three lovely daughters. The daughters are of school age and are are always immaculately turned out. However the income from the mother's part time job is insufficient to meet all the family's needs, so we are helping with food parcels. “The elder daughter came up to me this weekend, gave me a big smile and thanked me for helping them”.
Family 3 is a mother, father and four young children. The mother got ill and had to stop work, and the father had to give up work to look after the kids. Whilst they were working, the both incurred relatively standard debts. Once they had to stop work, their benefits was not sufficient to cover both the living costs and the debts. We provide food for them each week.
Family 4 is a father with three children. The mother is not around. The father works, but is sufficiently low paid to qualify for benefits. His circumstances changed in a way he had not realised was relevant to his benefits, so he was unknowingly being paid more than he was entitled to. As soon has the error was discovered, his benefits were cut at the same time that his overpayments were clawed back. He was not able to cover his living costs, and he did not have enough food for himself and his kids. We provided food for the family whilst the benefits were being clawed back.
Family 5 is a husband with no children. His wife died, and he became clinically depressed. His life spiralled downwards, during which time he lost both his job and his house. He is trying to get back on his feet, and has recently been given accommodation. We are providing food for him to help whilst he is struggling to cover the costs of rebuilding his home from scratch, his job and his life.
Family 6 is a pensioner on basic pension. She lives in rented accommodation. Her husband had been a labourer. He had not saved any money and, when he died, she was left with nothing. She has no children or living relatives. During the cold snap this winter, she was left with no money after paying her heat bill. She managed for just over a week with no money whatsoever, before asking for help with food. We provided food until the cold snap subsided.
Family 7 is a single woman, without children or family. She lives in private rented accommodation. She has not been able to get a council flat. She was made redundant, and is not able to cover her bills. She has been turned down from so many jobs, she has now lost all hope. We provide food for her intermittently.
Family 8 is a father, mother and three children. The father had been unemployed for around a year, and has since got back to work. Whilst unemployed, they used their credit cards to pay the mortgage. They built up debt elsewhere. They are slowly paying back their debts, but they run out of money by around the third week of each month. We currently provide food for them during the last week of the month.
Family 9 is a young mother with a 3 year old child. The family was the victim of prolonged domestic violence. Being traumatised and terrified, the mother packed a bag for herself and her child and left home, with no idea of what to do. She was taken in by a shelter for women suffering domestic violence. She had no money. We provided food for her through the shelter, for the few weeks until she was able to register and start to collect benefits.