A housing association in Oldham is helping to fight poverty among its tenants by offering access to cheaper food shopping.
First Choice Homes Oldham (FCHO) has pledged to spend £130,000 to provide an affordable food service; the initiative also include the provision of debt advice and help into employment.
The move has been spurred on by the impact of Universal Credit. Oldham was one of the first places in the UK to pilot the much troubled and controversial welfare reform. Billed as a flexible benefit that supposedly makes work pay, in practice it has too often been found to plunge claimants into rent arrears and debt.
According to FCHO, 41% of its tenants on Universal Credit are in arrears and over the last 12 months the organisation has had to refer 198 to food banks.
“We can no longer rely just on the state to assist the most vulnerable in society,” said Vinny Roche, FCHO’s chief executive. “Businesses, charities, the third sector and organisations like ours need to work together to combat poverty and support those most in need.”
The new food service is an £80,000 partnership with Manchester-based food surplus redistribution charity The Bread and Butter Thing (TBBT). This aims to increase the amount of disposable income in people’s pockets so that they don’t have to choose between buying food, paying bills or life’s basics.
Tenants receive shopping bags filled with quality fresh food and store cupboard staples from supermarkets as part of the affordable food service, which is available every week at community centres in some of the most deprived areas of the town.
They can buy £35 worth of shopping for just £7, FCHO says, with larger families given the option to pay £14 for a double order. For those tenants who whose health may make it difficult to attend the service, the housing association says its community impact team will hand deliver the shopping.
Meanwhile, debt advice, support with claiming benefits and lowering the cost of borrowing through access to credit unions are among the additional measures FCHO is providing to help those in greatest need.
To date, people who have used the service have saved more than £10,000 between them. FCH and TBBT plan to expand the offer to at least three more locations in Oldham over the next 12 months.
“Our customers do their very best to get by but food poverty is on the rise in Oldham,” Roche added. “At First Choice Homes, we’ve decided we can’t just sit back and let that happen. That’s why we’ve teamed up with TBBT to make a positive difference to our customers in greatest need.
“We’ve funded the partnership, aimed at getting the food service running five days a week, 52 weeks a year to a minimum of 450 of our customers every week. The results to date are fantastic and I’m excited to see what we can achieve in the future. The more of us joining the fight against poverty the better and if further partners would like to get on board to help us reach even more people in need, I encourage them to get in touch.”
Mark Game, TBBT chief executive, added: “The financial savings for people using the service are significant, people eat better quality and a bigger variety of food, and we save tonnes of surplus edible food from going to waste. It’s a win/win solution for everyone and we’re looking forward to seeing our partnership develop in Oldham and improve the lives of more and more people.”
Main Image: Volunteers sort food at First Choice Homes Oldham’s and The Bread and Butter Thing’s affordable food service.