WHEN you think of Ilkley, you think of an affluent town. You don’t think of poverty.

But that’s the reality for lots of families in the historic spa town, where more and more people are reaching out for help to make ends meet, unable to afford the basics.

Ilkley is sometimes labelled as the “posh” part of the Bradford district; surrounded by beautiful moors, and with house prices on average 2.4 times the price of the rest of the district (£482,875 in the past year compared with £203,610, according to Rightmove).

But the stark reality is that the town is no different to every other part of the Bradford district – and the rest of the UK – with increasing numbers of people needing help to feed their families and put food on the table.

Ilkley Food Bank opened in 2013, founded by a network of local churches who recognised there was a need for food aid in the town, a problem that has only got worse over the past nine years.

Last June it became an official charity, but still relies on a team of volunteers and donations from the public to keep the hungry fed and food parcels going out of the door next to All Saints Church.

Ilkley Gazette: Treats are included in food parcels to keep people's spirits upTreats are included in food parcels to keep people's spirits up

In recent months, volunteers have seen a steady increase in referrals, with the cost-of-living crisis, rising bills, low wages and the removal of the Universal Credit uplift all creating a perfect storm. And when the £700 energy price cap rise kicks in from April, there’s a fear numbers are going to grow even higher.

Jane Wearing, co-ordinator at the food bank, said: “During the pandemic it was people losing their jobs, more recently there’s other financial difficulties.

“The majority of clients are single people or couples, but we are seeing more families recently.

“The loss of the Universal Credit uplift was a big issue, so is ill health.

“The support for people at the bottom is clearly not sufficient otherwise we wouldn’t need food banks. Some clients consistently never have enough money.

Ilkley Gazette: People are given some choice on items they receive to reduce wastePeople are given some choice on items they receive to reduce waste

“Some can’t work due to their physical or mental health and the benefits they get are just not enough. People are in a no-win situation, they get stuck in a cycle of not having enough money and unless that income goes up, how do they get out of it?

“Looking forward I wouldn’t be surprised if more people do start coming forward. It is a worry for me, but we get so much support from the people of Ilkley so we’ll be able to support those in need.

“Every area has pockets of deprivation and Ilkley is no different, it’s the same everywhere. The cost-of-living crisis will affect everyone and there’s people living in all areas with a variety of situations.

During the afternoon, more than half a dozen people braved Storm Dudley to pick up food parcels. These included parents, people working full-time, and those unable to work with nowhere else to turn.

Ilkley Gazette: Food, drinks, and household good are included for those in needFood, drinks, and household good are included for those in need

One client, a full-time nurse with two children, said when she first came to the food bank four months ago she was “embarrassed and mortified”, but now she “doesn’t care”.

“My wage doesn’t cover the cost of living, my bills are extortionate are just keep going up,” she said.

“After rent and bills go out I have very little left, even working full-time. I’ve been relying on the food bank, every week for four months now and I can’t see an end in sight.

“Working people like me need help, I’d probably be better off on benefits so where’s the incentive for me? The current system isn’t working and it’s those on low incomes being punished.

“Those in power have no idea of the reality; I’d like to see them live on my wage and raise children for a few weeks.

“It’s not for want of trying, I work full-time. I never thought I’d be in this position. It was so embarrassing the first time I came here, I was mortified, but now I don’t care.”

Ilkley Gazette: The food bank said the generosity of Ilkley's people is touchingThe food bank said the generosity of Ilkley's people is touching

Another couple get emotional as they explain the struggles which have meant they have relied on the food bank for four years.

In shock and thinking I’ve misheard I ask, “for a year?” They reply, “No, four years.”

The wife said: “I had to stop working due to severe mental health problems, my husband had an injury and then surgery meaning he had to stop working as a lorry driver.

“We’d worked our whole lives until that point, but we ended up on Universal Credit and once we’ve covered our rent, bills and arrears there’s very little left.

“We can only afford to come here, we can’t afford to buy fresh food. Doing that we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“With the price rises coming I don’t know how those struggling like us can survive.”

Visibly emotional, she adds: “We’ve been coming here for four years, they are wonderful people.

“Without them I don’t know where we’d be. Prices are going up but Universal Credit is a set amount. We’ve been looking to relocate to save money but I’ve lived in my house for 40 years, why should I have to move?

“The Government need to do something to help the worse off, the rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer. They need to take a hard look at the situation.

“I have days now where I think maybe I’d be better off not being here anymore.”

Another client has four children and works part-time; the children’s father sadly died some time ago.

She’s been coming since November, and has noticed a shift in attitude in the town since the Covid-19 pandemic struck

She said: “In the past people didn’t think there was people struggling in the town, but now attitudes have changed, people realise the struggle is real.

“There was a stigma in the town but that’s gone now, people are aware of this issue a lot more. In the shops people donate their rewards to the food bank, there’s a lady who every time she visits she puts some cans in as a donation.

“There’s a lot of generosity in the town, and I’m so grateful for it.”

Ilkley's MP Robbie Moore said: “People use food banks, such as The Ilkley Food Bank, for many different reasons. These independent, charitable organisations provide such an important job in helping people through extremely difficult times.

"It is right that the Government provides a strong safety net through the welfare system for those who need extra support, including by spending over £111 billion on welfare support for people of working age in 2021/22. The Government is also wholly committed to supporting those on low incomes, and continues to do so through many measures, including by increasing the living wage.

"We cannot underestimate the importance of employment, particularly where it is full-time, in substantially reducing the risks of poverty. The Government’s ‘Plan for Jobs’ will invest £33 billion to create, support and protect jobs and help people out of poverty into well-paid work, which will include funding for an extra 13,500 Work Coaches in Job Centres.”