At a church in east London on a cold winter’s day, Beautine Wester-Okiya looks through boxes of donated children’s clothes, toys and other items to help local people facing financial difficulties in the United Kingdom. .
It is in the face of something that the most important nurse would never have imagined – abject poverty in the developed western world.
“I have never seen this in my life here in the UK,” Wester-Okiya, who came to Britain 40 years ago from Malaysia, told AFP.
It’s a similar story of financial crisis 140km (87 miles) north in the central English county of Coventry.
In a large warehouse, workers from the charity Feed the Hungry carry emergency food not only to children in Nicaragua, Ukraine and Africa, but also to families just a few kilometers away.
Britain is in the midst of its biggest price rise in decades, from fuel and heating to food and housing costs.
The crisis has put food banks, which have become an integral part of modern British life, under serious pressure, prompting calls for other aid from children’s clothing to help with applications for aid.
“We have mothers who have committed suicide … we have children who have been able to go through this epidemic to find a low cost of living,” Wester-Okiya said.
Broken mothers, broken families, broken families. Mothers are upset; children are crying all the time.”
For the past two and a half years, Hackney Children & Baby Bank has been continuously coordinating support for those in need.
Launched during the coronavirus pandemic, it has repeatedly taken action to deal with crisis after crisis, from migrants who have arrived in small boats with nothing to homeless Afghans and Ukrainians.
But most of those who need help now are people from the UK who have never faced financial problems like this.
“We are no longer talking about immigrants, we are talking about middle class people having to sell their houses, people like teachers,” said Wester-Okiya.
Faced with a growing demand – the UK now has more than 2,500 banks – the children’s bank has expanded its services to include older children, too.
Toilets are very important.
“One young girl, 14 years old, wrote a bad poem about how she was bullied because she couldn’t wash,” said Wester-Okiya, adding how the girl told her mother to cut the soap into four and give each member of the family a small portion. piece.
In Coventry, a city with a thriving car industry, the “insane” cost of everything has prompted single mother-of-four Hannah Simpson to visit a food bank for the first time.
Simpson, 29, whose youngest is just 12 months old, has been skipping meals to make sure her children can eat.
But this has taken a toll on him, leaving him feeling “tired and tired”.
“I try to hide my problems from them… but my daughter said at school one day, ‘I’m worried because mom isn’t eating dinner with us and there’s not enough food to go around’,” she said.
“It’s very difficult. I have four children, I have to take good care of them, keep going and I have to worry about where we will get our next meal.”
A 50-year-old woman who only gave her name as Tracy said the food bank has been a “life saver” since she started coming in November.
“My cupboards were empty. “I have been eating once a day, and I am waiting for tea every day,” he said.
Faced with the growing crisis, Feed the Hungry, which runs 14 food banks in Coventry and its international operations, has launched a range of projects aimed at helping people cope in the short term.
A project to teach people how to cook and make good use of what they have is being planned.
The “Pathfinder” project gives people the opportunity to buy food for 25 British pounds ($31) at a reduced price, giving them choice and “dignity” while helping to raise money for diabetes.
“It’s working,” said project manager Hugh McNeill. “The problem we have is that the demand outstrips our supply.”
The people who come through the organization’s doors “have no economic power at all; they have borrowed and sold everything they had,” he added.
“You can go around the country and it’s the same in every city and every town.”
For Wester-Okiya, the prospects of a solid construction are remote.
“My phone doesn’t stop,” he said, constantly ringing the phone with messages and calls for help.
“I have lived here for 40 years and as a nurse, I spend a lot of time with families. But last year was very bad, and I’m scared for the next three months.”