Oil crisis drives rise in demand at Aberdeen homeless charity

Aberdeen CyreniansDemand for services at a homeless charity in Aberdeen has doubled over the past year due to the oil industry crisis.

More than 5,000 people have relied on help from Aberdeen Cyrenians across the Grampian region over the past 12 months, particularly for food donations.

Charity chief executive Scott Baxter said the downturn in the oil industry was a major factor in the increase in food poverty in the city.

And he said he was worried by the rise in numbers, which could leave 10,000 people in need by 2018.

Mr Baxter said: “We are seeing a lot of people who have been impacted with welfare reform and austerity just in this last year because of the downturn.

“The first victims of the downturn were people from oil industry service companies such as drivers, caterers and people on zero hour contracts.

“But we’re now starting to see people from the front line who have been made redundant and who have exhausted their resources and are unable to find further work.”

The charity also helps people facing hardship by giving advice on housing issues and benefits.

Mr Baxter believes recent welfare reforms have put more pressure on families.

He said: “In the last 18 months what we have really noticed is that the people coming to access our services would not have been our typical profile before.

“A lot of people approaching us now are people who have never had contact with services following whatever crisis has hit them before.”

The chief executive of Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE), which is lead partner in the Aberdeen Food Banks partnership, said previously highly-paid oil workers were now seeking support to help put food on the table.

Dave Simmers said the oil rich city, which has enjoyed a long-term reputation as an affluent region with ultra-low unemployment, was facing up to a grim new reality brought about by the collapse in the oil price.

Simmers said: “We already have people coming in who have lost their jobs in the oil industry. These are people who had been used to earning good money.

“A lot of people are only ever a couple of pay cheques away from disaster and if wages stop, they’re on their uppers.”

The Food Banks Partnership Aberdeen has 37 member organisations have signed up so far – including Instant Neighbour and the Cyrenians – committed to supporting people in need. In the run-up to Christmas 2015, the partnership gave out nearly 300 parcels

The partnership does not keep a data-base of clients, but Mr Simmers said anecdotal information suggested the oil downturn is beginning to bite.

He said: “One gentleman came to us, suited and booted and driving an expensive car. He also had a welfare grant and had come to spend it on food.

“He told us he had been on a very good salary in the oil industry but had lost his job, had a very high mortgage, was in the process of losing his house and was about to lose the car.

“Another man said he needed the food bank in the final week before pay day to see him through until the end of the month. People are stretched and it doesn’t take much to put them over the edge.”

Mr Simmers said: “We have seen a steady rise in users since the Food Banks Partnership started in 2012 and in 2015 we saw a marked increase. This is due to a number of factors including Government welfare reform and delays in benefit payments.

“But with oil companies cutting their workforces, people’s circumstances can change very quickly indeed. We have been used to seeing big money and plenty work in Aberdeen but that is changing.

“I am sure we will see a substantial increase in 2016. We are braced, I think this is going to be a very bad year.”

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