On the Breadline: ‘People ask will it be OK this winter? I just don’t know’

Louise Reed, founder and CEO of Focus4Hope, a charity that seeks to provide support for the homeless, elderly, isolated, and vulnerable in West Yorkshire (Mike Pinches/Comic Relief)
Louise Reed, founder and CEO of Focus4Hope, a charity that seeks to provide support for the homeless, elderly, isolated, and vulnerable in West Yorkshire (Mike Pinches/Comic Relief)

Kelly Brennan does not know if she will be able to afford Christmas lunch. The single mother-of-four has had sleepless nights worrying about how she will cope with rising bills.

The crippling cost of living is heightened due to the pressure of her having to buy premium food for her seven-year-old son who has multiple food allergies and suffers from eczema. “He has a strict diet,” said Kelly, 45. “He can only eat organic foods and organic is expensive. Kelly, who lives on disability benefits and universal credit, has seen her weekly grocery bill double from £60 to £120. “I haven’t got that money so I have to cut back on other things. If I need toiletries for myself, I do without.”

Her difficulties do not stop there. Due to his eczema, her son’s skin sheds at night and so his bedding is covered with skin flakes in the morning which Kelly, from Halifax, would wash daily. “But this is no longer feasible with the electricity bill running up. It’s a continuous battle, I’ll do anything for my kids.” To keep bills down, Kelly allows herself to put the heating on for 15 minutes at a time. “I’m frightened. I’m going through nearly £8 a day in gas. It’s a constant worry and I don’t know how I will get through it.”

Her struggle is one that is well known to Focus4Hope, a west Yorkshire-based charity that provides warm winter kits to people in need over the cold months as well as a community food bank and food parcel delivery service.

 (ES)
(ES)

CEO Louise Reed said: “We have seen a 100 per cent increase in demand for our services from working families. Previously we mainly supported more elderly and disabled people, and those who are vulnerable and on benefits, but we have seen a huge rise in working families who need support as well as people on zero-hour contracts and minimum wage.”

The charity is one of the organisations we will be seeking to fund in our On the Breadline Christmas Appeal in partnership with Comic Relief. Ms Reed added: “A man whose wife has dementia called a few weeks ago. He said, ‘I’ve just paid our bills and I have no money left for food’. He lives in a lovely house in a nice area and that was the first time he had to make a call like that. If he is struggling, imagine how many more people are suffering that haven’t reached out.”

The level of food poverty the team is now seeing is “harrowing”, with mothers phoning in saying they haven’t eaten for three days. “We had a referral from a cancer support group after they visited a patient in her home. She had lost two stone because she became so frightened that she wouldn’t afford her heating that she stopped eating.”

Such searing accounts make the charity feel they are a “bucket with a million holes”, Ms Reed said. “We need more funds so we can restock our supplies. I’m worried people could freeze to death without them.”

 (ES)
(ES)

Though times are tough, the support Focus4Hope gives goes a long way. Christian Drinnan, 26, had a bad break-up in April and left with his two young children. He moved into a new home a month later. He didn’t have a lot of money so Christian contacted Focus4Hope. The single father said: “It was the first time I accepted help. They gave me a microwave, toaster, plates, blankets, food crates — everything we needed to help me back on my feet. Without them, I would be in debt.”

Ms Reed said her goal is to “keep people alive this winter”. She said: “People look at us and ask, ‘is everything going to be all right?’ The hardest thing is, we just don’t know.”