Ukrainian refugees in Britain turn to food banks for “handouts”

A London hostess who has taken in a Ukrainian family has turned to the local food bank for help because rising electricity prices mean she can no longer afford to feed her new guests.

According to The Guardian, a Ukrainian family who now visits a food bank in Euston, north London every week, is among an ever-increasing number of recently arrived refugees from Ukraine who, according to charities, “rely on handouts to survive.”

Helena Aksentievich, a manager at Euston Food Bank, said a Ukrainian family gave her the letter. It was from their landlady and said they were struggling to cover the additional cost of feeding two women and two children, as well as additional electricity costs.

The manager says the system is in “disarray” and that the food bank, which has seen a 300% increase in visitors since the start of the pandemic, is growing rapidly with the many Ukrainian refugees coming to the food bank.

Under the UK Homes to Ukraine scheme, refugees are eligible for a £200 transitional living allowance provided by their local council and can apply for benefits including Universal Credit, Pension Credit, Benefits disability, care allowance and child allowance. However, some Ukrainian refugees say their access to benefits has been delayed because they have not yet received biometric residence permits. The UK government denies these claims.

British “sponsor” hosts providing shelter to Ukrainians can demand £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 Helena Aksentievich said a teenage boy also came to them. “All I see is that we are getting more and more people from this community,” she said.

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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.

The Ifan network said it had created Ukrainian versions of its Highlands and Carlisle reference flyers. Sabina Goodwin, Ifan coordinator, says: “A welfare system that is fit for purpose will be able to support Ukrainian refugees who are fighting for food.”

Meanwhile, as the cost of living crisis in the UK deepens, food banks are already struggling to meet the needs of people across the country. A study by the food chain earlier this month found that 93% of its members reported an increase in the need for services since the beginning of the year, and more than 80% reported problems with food supplies.

Sabine Goodwin says the new cost-of-living crisis measures announced last week by Chancellor Rishi Sunak are welcome, but added that “there is a long way to go before people in the UK can count on affordable financial assistance during the crisis.”

One Ukrainian refugee living alone in a rundown house in Exeter said she visited a food bank after she lost her sponsor for the Homes for Ukraine program. She said she was “very well received” and helped choose her food.

Support group Sutton4Ukrainians said that one in three refugees they encounter turn to food banks, many because they are waiting to access benefits or because they don’t have enough money.

A spokesman for the group says the council’s £200 temporary living allowance is not enough: “It’s a small amount – public transport is expensive.”

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The charity Lifeafterhummus in north London worked with several Ukrainian refugees who visited its outdoor surplus food cart. One family said they were sponsored but didn’t have access to food. The Lifeafterhummus Society also provided cooking equipment for the refugees.

Farrah Reinfly, the group’s operations manager, said the Ukrainian refugee problem arose on top of the existing cost-of-living crisis. “Families come to me in tears and say, ‘I don’t know what 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 £200 payment while they are being processed. Interpreter services are available to help with telephone applications for benefits, reception points have been set up to assist arrivals, and we are in constant contact with councils who are providing additional support to the small number of Ukrainians who may need additional assistance.”

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