Havering food thefts on rise as Trussell Trust warns of “rocketing” numbers of food bank referrals

The charity that runs three food banks in Havering has warned of “rocketing” demand for its services as the economic climate pushes people deeper into poverty.

But information from local magistrates’ courts shows people aren’t just turning to charity, with a big recent increase in thefts of food from or by people in Havering.

In one four-day stretch this month, Barkingside Magistrates’ Court heard eight cases of people stealing food from stores where either the defendant or the shop was in Havering. The total value of the food stolen was nearly �600, with items ranging from bread to fresh meat.

By comparison, magistrates dealt with just one case of food theft relating to the borough in the equivalent four days last year. The value of the food – which was meat – was �35.

“In the 10 months since we’ve been open, we’ve fed nearly 500 people just in the RM3 postcode,” said Harold Hill food bank manager Mark Reeves.

“There’s a huge range of different crises that means people will come to us. It might be a loss of benefit or delays in receiving it, redundancy, or domestic violence.

“I have heard of some voucher holders who’ve tried to get a voucher from social services and said: ‘If I don’t get some food, I’m going to have to steal it.’ I’m sure the food we supply is preventing people having to do that.”

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Since it opened in January, the food bank has seen its monthly outgoings soar from 100kg of food to more than 750kg in October.

This isn’t just because of increased need – the food bank is now working with more distributors so much more food is available.

But continued economic pressures do play a part, Mark believes.

“It’s definitely a combined thing,” he explained. “We’re making it more accessible to more people, but the other half is the difficulties in the economy and food crises.”

Harold Hill food bank is run by national charity the Trussell Trust, which also operates food banks in Rainham and Collier Row.

Nationally, the trust fed nearly 110,000 people between April and October – compared with about 130,000 in the whole of the year 2011-12, and half that the previous year.

“The number of people we are feeding is rocketing,” said PR manager Molly Hodson.

“There have been a number of situations where a client has said if it weren’t for a food bank they would have stolen food.”

Food banks dish out emergency supplies of food in exchange for vouchers, which are obtained through police and health and social workers.

For more information, visit http://www.trusselltrust.org/.