Frank Field MP
Your MP for Birkenhead
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Feeding Birkenhead

Feeding Birkenhead is a coalition of churches, community groups, and other organisations working together to eliminate hunger in Birkenhead. It was set up by Frank in December 2014 to begin implementing the recommendations published in the Feeding Britain report, published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger.

Its programme centres on four main projects, each of which is now being extended across the country by Feeding Britain.

Free school meal registration

Feeding Birkenhead has successfully campaigned for the local authority to use its Housing Benefit data automatically to register all eligible children for free school meals. This policy led to 600 more children being signed up for those meals, which triggered an additional £725,000 of previously unclaimed Pupil Premium funding towards their schooling.

Food Bank Plus

Feeding Birkenhead has commissioned a joint project between Wirral Foodbank and Involve Northwest, to prevent people from experiencing prolonged periods of hunger. The project is delivered by a trained benefits advisor who is on hand to resolve people’s crises during their first visit to the food bank. Over the past 18 months, over 700 people have received help and advice, of which half have had their crises addressed there and then, meaning they no longer had to visit the food bank.

Feeding Birkenhead has also brokered an agreement between Wirral Foodbank and npower for the delivery of one of the country’s first Fuel Banks. The Fuel Bank offers two-week credit vouchers for gas and electricity to those people who would otherwise be unable to afford the energy they require to cook the contents of their food parcel. Over the past 18 months, 6,000 people have been helped by this project.

School Holiday Meals and Fun

Feeding Birkenhead has established a free meals and fun project for children during school holidays. Over the past two years, community groups in Beechwood, Charing Cross, North Birkenhead, Prenton, Rock Ferry, and Tranmere have provided this service for a total of 2,000 children. Many of those children usually receive free school meals during term time. Much of the food supplied by the project is sourced from local supermarkets’ surplus stocks which would otherwise be wasted. Children are able to participate in arts, crafts, cooking, games, and sports.

School Breakfast Clubs

Feeding Birkenhead has helped twelve schools set up and maintain breakfast clubs, by tapping into a supply of surplus breakfast products that are intercepted by a charity called His Church (many of those products would otherwise have been thrown to waste, despite being perfectly edible). The equivalent of 156,000 breakfasts were distributed to schools in March 2017 alone. Donations from the public enabled Feeding Birkenhead to purchase ten pallets of fruit juice, fruit snacks, porridge, muesli, jams and spreads, at £20 per pallet, to supplement the breakfast cereals that are provided free of charge.

Feeding Birkenhead is currently devising two further projects to prevent and relieve hunger.

School Supper Clubs

Feeding Birkenhead is working with two secondary schools to set up supper clubs in which children and families in attendance cook meals for one another, and are taught new recipes, before sitting down to eat together.

Food for the destitute homeless

Feeding Birkenhead is working with the local authority to roll out a voucher scheme which enables the destitute homeless to receive hot meals at participating cafes. A further planned scheme will involve Thermos flasks being given to the destitute homeless, and for participating cafes to allow them free access to hot water, so that sachets of soup or pasta provided by community groups can be prepared at any time. Alongside this, Feeding Birkenhead is campaigning to get the Ministry of Defence to divert its surplus ration packs to the destitute homeless.  

Feeding Birkenhead has also begun influencing local policy to deliver gains for individuals and families who would otherwise be hungry.

Cooking facilities

Feeding Birkenhead has successfully encouraged the local authority to include the provision of basic cooking facilities as a minimum requirement for private landlords seeking accreditation. 

Early Opportunity on Council Tax debt

Feeding Birkenhead is setting up a new initiative to give vulnerable residents an early opportunity to settle their Council Tax debts before they spiral out of control. A local housing association, which has agreed to trial the initiative, will make contact with those residents as soon as they fall behind on their Council Tax, with a view to setting up a fair repayment plan with the local authority at an early stage.

The lessons learned from Feeding Birkenhead’s work are helping to shape national policy.

Energy prices

Feeding Birkenhead demonstrated how families on low incomes who use prepayment meters are asked to pay disproportionately large energy costs, as well as a series of one-off charges, which restrict their ability to afford food. After our lobbying, Ofgem implemented a price cap on prepayment meters – saving the average household up to £90 per year for the next three years – and abolished those one-off charges, to help level the playing field across the energy market.

Tax credits and Child Benefit

Evidence from Feeding Birkenhead revealed how the transition between different types of tax credit claim was triggering a period of months without money for families on low incomes, during which they were at risk of being hungry. On the back of this evidence, HMRC began piloting a new programme to enable the conversion of single tax credit claims to joint claims over the telephone. 

2,500 claims a month are now being processed in this way, with the average time taken to process them falling from 55 days under the old system, to 9 days.

Further evidence from Feeding Birkenhead demonstrated how delays in the processing of Child Benefit could also cause financial hardship among families on low incomes. A second trial programme has been set up by HMRC to counter this problem. 6,000 families so far have had their claims processed by HMRC's new online verification system, thereby doing away with the need for families to submit birth certificates with their application. The loss of birth certificates under the previous system, and the delays this caused, had resulted in some families having to use food banks.

Benefit sanctions

Feeding Birkenhead produced evidence showing how, in some cases, sanctions are used against particularly vulnerable people whose behaviour should not have warranted a loss of income – their bus may have turned up late, or they had to take care of a close relative who had fallen ill, for example, which meant they could not make it to a Jobcentre Plus appointment.

The Department for Work and Pensions accepted the recommendation made by Feeding Britain, on the back of this evidence, for a Yellow Card warning system to protect this group of people from being wrongly sanctioned. During an initial trial period in parts of Scotland, over 500 people received such protection. Feeding Britain is now encouraging the Department to extend the system across the rest of the United Kingdom, beginning in Birkenhead.

Reformed Welfare Contract

Feeding Birkenhead has partnered with Birkenhead Jobcentre Plus to help people on low incomes make their limited resources stretch further. Once they have signed up to the duties they need to fulfil while claiming benefit, people making a new claim are informed of the support they can receive towards their utility costs, as well as helpful Freephone numbers to call if they are struggling to pay their bills. Over the past year and a half, more than 1,000 people have received this information.

Having shared this practice with central government, the Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that it is now looking to extend Feeding Birkenhead’s Reformed Welfare Contract to Jobcentre Plus offices across the rest of the United Kingdom.  

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