Ukrainian refugees turn to food banks as UK hosts struggle with costs

A London hostess from a Ukrainian family has written to her local food bank “asking for help” because rising energy costs mean she can no longer afford to feed her new guests.

The Ukrainian family, which now comes weekly to a food bank in Euston, north London, is among a growing number of newly arrived refugees from the war-torn country who depend on aid to survive, according to charities.

Helena Aksentijevic, manager of the Euston food bank, said the Ukrainian family had given her the letter. He 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 that the number of Ukrainian refugees arriving at the food bank, which had risen by 300% since the start of the pandemic, was rising rapidly.

Under the Household Plan for Ukraine, refugees are entitled to a provisional payment of £ 200 for subsistence expenses, provided by their city council, and can claim benefits such as universal credit, pension credit, benefits for disability, care allowance and child allowance. However, some say their access to benefits has been delayed because they have not yet received a biometric residence permit. The government denies it.

Sponsors can claim £ 350 a 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 a teenager had also visited them. “I just see that we get more and more people from this community,” he 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 had created Ukrainian versions of his reference pamphlets in the Highlands and Carlisle.

A family who fled their home in Oblast arrives at Luton Airport to meet their host. Many hosts are experiencing increased financial pressures. Photography: Martin Godwin / The Guardian

Sabine Goodwin, Ifan’s coordinator, said: “A proper social security system for its purpose could support Ukrainian refugees struggling to pay for food.”

Meanwhile, amid a growing cost-of-living crisis, food banks are already struggling to meet the needs of people across the UK. Food network research found earlier this month that 93% of its members reported an increase in the need for services since the beginning of the year, while more than 80% reported problems with the supply of food.

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 for people in the UK to have access to affordable aid. in times of crisis. “

A refugee living alone in emergency accommodation in Exeter said she had visited a food bank after losing her Homes for Ukraine sponsor. She said she was “very well received” and was helped to choose the food.

Sutton4Ukrainians, a support group, said one in three refugees they meet goes to food banks, many because they are waiting to access benefits or because their money is not spreading enough.

A spokesman said the council’s interim payment of £ 200 for subsistence was insufficient. “This is not a huge amount: public transport is expensive,” they said, adding that refugees often wanted to be independent.

The Lifeafterhummus Community Benefit Society in North London has worked with several Ukrainian refugees who have visited their surplus food cart outdoors. One family said they were being sponsored but did not have access to food. Lifeafterhummus has also provided kitchen equipment to the refugees.

Farrah Rainfly, the group’s chief operating officer, said the problem for Ukrainian refugees was compounded by the existing cost-of-living crisis. “I have families who come to me crying and say, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.'”

A government spokesman said: “We do not recognize these reports: Ukrainians can access benefits immediately without a biometric test and will receive an additional payment of £ 200 while they are being prosecuted.

“Translation services are available to help with telephone applications for benefits, welcome points have been set up to help arrivals, and we are in constant contact with local councils that offer more support to the small number of Ukrainians who can need more help “.

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