Arthritis sufferer 'skips meals' to heat her home as soaring bills leave her with just £15 a week

  • Deborah McDermott told ITV Wales Cost of Living Correspondent Carole Green that some days she cannot afford even one meal

A woman left with just £15 a week after paying her bills said some days she will go without eating even one meal because of the staggering cost of living.

Deborah McDermott receives Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) - a type of benefit - but said it is no longer enough to cover the rising costs of everything from fuel to food.

Ms McDermott has been using a food bank in Rhyl to help her make ends meet, as new figures show people turning to food banks is becoming increasingly common.

Data from the Trussell Trust reveals that between April and September this year, 23,000 people in Wales used a food bank for the very first time. That is more than double the number of new users compared to the same timeframe last year.

The charity said the need is currently so great it is outstripping donations, an issue it has never faced before.

The Trussell Trust has launched an emergency appeal for donations as it struggles to meet demand.

Ms McDermott said she uses the food bank in Rhyl, as well as a mobile phone app to find discounted produce, and tends to make "simple meals".

"I can't afford to buy food in the shops because it's just gone up too much for me to be able to afford," she explained.

Once she has paid for gas, electric, water and other regular bills, Ms McDermott said she is left with £30 a fortnight to cover food and any other costs.

She said: "I go and buy reduced food later in the day or I've downloaded an app on my phone which is called Good To Go which means I can get meals for a few days.

"But sometimes I don't even have one meal a day because of the heating and electric. It's important that I have heating when I need it because I suffer from arthritis and the cold weather doesn't help."

Ms McDermott said if she does not qualify for the Warm Home Discount Scheme this year - which sees certain people eligible for a £150 discount on their winter energy bill - she will not be turning the heating on over the colder months.

She wants to see benefits uprated in line with inflation, when the Chancellor gives his Autumn Statement on 17 November.

Ms McDermott wants to see more help for those on benefits and working households, who she said are all struggling.

"[Benefits] should go up with inflation at the proper amount," she said.

"Wages should go up for the working person as well, they've got it tough just as much as anybody else.

"I think everyone should get help - working people especially because they're the ones who keep the country going for us."

She added: "I understand that the rich have earned their money and they're entitled to that but I think they should pay more tax to help the poorer side, because I don't think it's much more to them really."

The food bank in Rhyl also provides a FareShare service, where people can access free food without needing a referral.

New figures from the Trussell Trust show nearly 77,000 food parcels, more than ever before, were provided to people across Wales between April and September this year.

Almost 28,000 of these were provided for children.

In the same six-month period, 23,000 people turned to a food bank for help in Wales for the first time ever - which represents a 54% increase compared to 2021.

At the food bank in Rhyl, they too have seen demand double.

"It's fair to say there's been an increase in demand," said Rachel Round, the food bank's manager.

"The cost of living crisis is gaining momentum and it is pushing people towards food banks."

She said the food bank has had to adapt to that need, introducing a traffic light system for the FareShare services, almost rationing the food, to ensure the last person through the door gets as much as the first person.

Rachel Round said they are having to adapt to increased need, offering people things like free debt advice and not just food parcels.

The type of people Ms Round sees looking for help has also changed.

"We're seeing a lot more working families coming through the door," she explained.

"We're seeing people on low incomes come through the door and also the older generation who are claiming benefits but are really struggling to make that benefit last the month."

Recent research from the Trussell Trust found that one in five people referred to a food bank in its network are in working households.

The charity, which supports 146 food bank centres in Wales, described how rising costs are creating a "tsunami of need" - outstripping donations for the first time in its history.

Susan Lloyd-Selby, network lead in Wales at the Trussell Trust, said: "We are calling for the Prime Minister to act decisively in next week's budget. We urge the UK government to realise their commitment of supporting people on the lowest income with a broad package of support. As well as ensuring that benefits rise with inflation as soon as possible, this must go further to close the gap between price rises and incomes over the winter."

A spokesperson from the UK Government's Treasury said: "Countries around the world are facing rising costs, driven by Putin's illegal war in Ukraine, and we know this is affecting people here in the UK.

The Trussell Trust has handed out nearly 77,000 emergency food parcels between April and September this year. Credit: PA Images

"The government's Energy Price Guarantee will save the typical household around £700 this winter, based on what energy prices would have been under the current price cap - reducing bills by roughly a third. In addition, we have provided at least an extra £1,200 of cost-of-living support to 8 million of the most vulnerable households.

"We've also reversed the rise in national insurance contributions and made changes to Universal Credit to help working households keep more of what they earn."

Ms Lloyd-Selby at the Trussell Trust also called on the Welsh Government to establish "a new Welsh Emergency Fund" to ensure shot-term support measures are established on a longer-term basis.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "Whilst we can't shield everyone from the cost of living crisis, we are doing everything we can to help people through this very difficult period with targeted support for those who need it the most."

The Welsh Government has established a cost of living committee that meet weekly and has run campaigns throughout the year aimed at helping people access all the benefits and support they are entitled to.