Cost of food: Families struggling with rising prices

  • 14 June 2011
  • From the section Business
Jenni Ruegg
Image caption Jenni Ruegg: "Everything's gone up, but our incomes haven't"

Many people are watching what they spend right now - but some working families are struggling to feed themselves, because they have next to no cash left after paying household bills.

Eighteen months ago, Jenni Ruegg did not think twice about filling up two trolleys with groceries at the supermarket.

But recently she could not send her children to school, because she did not have any food to put in their lunch boxes.

"I knew our budget was running low. It wasn't shock. I was just upset. I wasn't providing for my children the stuff they need," she said.


Putting food on the table has become a constant worry for Jenni.

And she has gone without eating herself to ensure her family is fed.

"I try to keep my husband well fed. I will have less. I've been hungry, I've gone to bed crying because I've been hungry. There are bad weeks and good weeks, but I just keep going."

Image caption The Bournemouth food bank is feeding more than double the number of people they were last year

Jenni has a lot of mouths to feed - seven children, five of them below the age of 12. But she and her husband have always worked and managed to get by. They clean offices by night, and Jenni is a school dinner lady by day.

"We're not benefit scroungers. We've always been self sufficient. We've worked hard and paid our bills," said Jenni.

But those bills have been rising fast during the past six months and their cleaning contracts have been cut by more than half, as companies have reduced their spending.

The day after she could not send her children to school, Jenni was referred to a Trussell Trust food bank and given an emergency food parcel.

When I dropped in to see the small team of volunteers in action, they were busy assembling bags of food in a small shed for the week ahead.

They hand out food donated by the public. And there are now more than 100 of these food banks up and down the country.

Demand is soaring.

Here in Bournemouth, they are feeding more than double the number of people they were last year.

Many of those in need have suffered a dramatic change in circumstance, like losing their job, or they have been hit by a delay in receiving benefits.

But this UK food bank network is now starting to help people they never expected to see.

Director Chris Mould said: "We are now seeing an increasing number of people coming to the food bank who are in work, on low incomes, who simply can't cope.

"Static incomes, prices for food and fuel going up, and there are people making incredibly difficult choices - it's about whether they heat their homes or feed their family."

Jenni knows all about those choices.

"Everything's gone up, but our incomes haven't. I just don't understand the logic."

Getting by

She is a proud mother, who at first refused her food bank voucher. But she is very grateful for the helping hand when she needed it most.

In the meantime, she's making do: "The boys just have to have shampoo. I make sure the girls get what they need with conditioner and I have what's left. If I have to have Fairy Liquid then so be it."

"It does leave your hair soft and shiny," she laughs.

The Rueggs are a close, resilient family, hoping things will improve soon.

Before I left, we were joined by Jenni's 11-year-old son, Mace, in the kitchen. And he knows his mother is doing her best.

"We do struggle for food, don't we Mum?" he said.

"It's such a shame when you're working so hard. But my mum's probably the best mum anyone can ever dream of. She's a supermum, aren't you Mum?"

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