Sunderland veteran 'living on breadline' as Northumbria University report calls for early action

Kris Jepson hears from a veteran just how profound an effect going hungry and struggling to pay for food can have.

A veteran "living on the breadline" says one of his fears is starving to death as he struggles to make ends meet.

Darrel Rush, from Sunderland, told ITV News Tyne Tees that existing in food poverty had had a profound effect on his mental and physical health.

"I just sit here and I think ‘am I going to starve to death?’ because I live on my own," he said.

"My tears just start falling from me and I just can't seem to control it. I shake and I just can’t seem to handle when I’ve got no food, because I like to have something, but even when my son’s here I always make sure he’s got something.

"I do without, so that he can eat, which, it shouldn’t be like that this day and age, it shouldn’t.”

Former military veteran Mr Rush, originally from Barrow-in-Furness, said he struggles to pay for meals due to the rising cost of living.

He continued: “I’m that used to living on the breadline now, I just try and manage my food more, but it’s getting harder and harder every month, because everything is going up all the time.

"I used to put £70 a month on to cover both gas and electric and now it’s £125 last month I had to put on, to cover me for the month and that’s coming off my food spend.”

A report from Northumbria University is calling for early intervention to prevent veterans going hungry. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Mr Rush's story comes as a new report by Northumbria University has found 16.9% of veterans are 'food insecure', with 12% experiencing an element of hunger.

Statistics are aligned with the general population, but researchers managed to identify certain red flags that should aid frontline workers with early intervention.

The key factors identified by researchers that make it more likely for a veteran to hit food insecurity “crisis point” include them being:

- of working age

- single

- having at least one medical condition

- renting a home

- receiving benefits

The Tri-Service Food Insecurity Study, by The Northern Hub for Veterans and Military Families' Research, has called on doctors, health and social workers to be more proactive in referring veterans who are at risk of entering 'food insecurity', to specialist military charities.

Mr Rush attends a Wednesday cook house run by one of these specialist military charities - the Veterans In Crisis Sunderland (VICS).

The military charity supports hundreds of veterans in the North East by employing an holistic approach to support, including providing emergency accommodation, financial support and advice, and hot meals, among numerous other services.

Following pilots, the Northumbria University report recommended social prescribing link workers being placed in GP surgeries across the country to refer veterans to relevant charities at an early stage, in order to prevent them entering food poverty.

Veterans in Crisis Sunderland supports hundreds of former service personnel. Credit: ITV News

VICS already follows a similar model at surgeries in the North East.

Ger Fowler, founder and CEO of VICS, told ITV News: “We’re the only people in the country that have an Armed Forces champion in every GP surgery.

"The client would go in, see the doctor, any problem, if they’re a veteran, go straight to the Armed Forces champion, then they would get in contact with us, refer them straight in and we can help them with any problem that they would have.”

Researchers for the Northumbria Universty study said focusing on prevention and early intervention rather than allowing a veteran to hit crisis, will save the taxpayer, the NHS and military charities money in the long run.

Professor Matt Kiernan led the Tri-Service Food Insecurity Study. Credit: ITV News

Professor Matt Kiernan told ITV News Tyne Tees: “We can start to do more to maybe recognise those who might need help earlier so we can do early intervention and we can start working with them and that way, we’re not spending the money on ‘crisis’, we’re spending the money on actually resolving the underlying problems of why they’re experiencing that food insecurity, that financial hardship, that background poverty.

"That’s better for the veterans charity economy, but it’s also better for the veteran themselves, because you’re not letting them slip into crisis.”

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