People are turning up to foodbank queues in the North East in tears with barely £20 a week to live off as the cost of living crisis continues to engulf families in the region.

Clair McGregor, chief executive of Bishop Auckland’s Angel Trust, recalled the devastating story of a 62-year-old man turning up to their foodbank crying saying “he never thought he would see the day when he had to use a foodbank”, as she warned: “We are not facing a crisis, we are facing disaster.”

The charity boss has accused Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, the two Conservative candidates vying to be Britain’s next Prime Minister, of not being able to relate to the realities facing ordinary people and she urged the pair to come to spend a day in Bishop Auckland and ‘see the heartbreak we are seeing”.

Read more: Bishop Auckland pantry opens and you can fill your basket for £5

The Northern Echo: Clair McGregor of the Angel Trust Clair McGregor of the Angel Trust

It comes as Ms Truss  hinted she would consider further support for struggling households if made prime minister, after previously taking a hard stance on “handouts”.

Her opponent, Mr Sunak, meanwhile told the BBC that the Government has a “moral responsibility” to help struggling households, and pitched himself as the more realistic candidate to be the next PM.

Ms McGregor said: "At the leadership debate when Truss and Sunak were asked what they would do, Liz Truss offered nothing and Rishi said he would offer help to most vulnerable. It simply isn't good enough. I think they simply can't relate to the realities of ordinary people. I would urge Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to come and spend a day in her and see the heartbreak we are seeing. 

"We have people queuing round the block, but these are not people on benefits, these are people who are working and simply can't make ends meet and can't afford to feed themselves and their children are forced to come and get food - and this is before the additional energy price rises in October and next year. I dread to think where we will be then, and we simply haven't got enough food.

"We are being inundated with requests to open on weekends and at night to cater for people who are working and can't get here

"We had a 62-year-old man in here in here crying. He had just £22 to live on for the rest of the month. He was in tears saying he never thought he would see the day when he had to use a foodbank. We are not facing a crisis, we are facing disaster."

The Northern Echo: Angel Trust Community Pantry Angel Trust Community Pantry

The shop opens as a food bank two days a week, where families with referrals from officials are able to collect a box of essentials and have a free shop.

Another two days a week it opens as a community shop to members of the public who can pay £5 for a year’s membership and fill up a basket for just £5 a shop.

Clair said: "We have arrived to find 15 people queuing before it even opens and then have an average of 100 people coming in a day.

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"It's going to get worse. People are struggling now already and the thought of energy bills going up more . . . I just don't know how we're going to cope.

"When we opened on Tuesday we thought the food we had would last for two days and we've got nothing left. We had to close because we ran out."

The Northern Echo: The Angel Trust's Community PantryThe Angel Trust's Community Pantry

Elsewhere, people have been heard talking about switching off fridges and stoves in order to cope.

But it is not only people on benefits affected, but increasingly people working in the health, education and informal sectors who are using food banks, out of desperation.

Polly Jones of the Trussell Trust, which has food banks throughout the region, said: "We've given out the highest number of parcels that we have over the last year and have been noticing an acceleration demand for food parcels since the £20 cuts to Universal Credit.

"And with the squeeze caused by the cost of living crisis - not just for food and energy, but transport and clothes, as well  - we've seen more and more people coming to food banks.

“It's hard to imagine the next period, particularly the winter, is going to be like for many people, which energy prices predicted to be an average of over £4,000. It's hard to believe really."

The Northern Echo: Polly Jones of the Trussell TrustPolly Jones of the Trussell Trust

She added: “What we are already hearing on a daily basis from our 1,400 Food banks, is that people are turning off their fridges and cookers because they cannot afford the cost of energy.

“ A number of people are coming to food banks asking for support, but not just any food. They are looking for food they can eat that doesn't require turning a cooker on.

“These are real signs of how hard people have been hit."

She said more and more people who were coming to food banks have a job in the likes of health service, education and hospitality and call centres.

“So work isn't protecting people from having to use a food bank, which is deeply concerning."

The Northern Echo: Graham Easterlow, East Durham Trust chief executive Graham Easterlow, East Durham Trust chief executive (Image: Northern Echo)

East Durham Trust chief executive Graham Easterlow said: “We do fear for the future. In terms of ourselves, as an organisation, we are at capacity and working over capacity.

“We have a staffing crisis and recruitment crisis across all sectors, but particularly the charitable and voluntary sector.

“We currently have one and a half people vacant and have staff who are close to burnout. Our staff are working harder than when they were during covid.

“What we are seeing at the moment is a sustained 200% increase in need and that's only going to increase."

He added: "We are working closely with the Durham Christian Partnership and are in talks with Durham County Council about what resources might be available locally to help bolster our staffing capacity - and that first triage of support we offer.

"It is only going to get worse. The impact of it is that we end up not being able to support people as quickly or as effectively as we can. 

"We then end up having to refer them on to national help lines, who are also swamped and are detached from our locality." 

He said the trust is already preparing for the winter and putting in applications for warm clubs, which be stationed at community centres - offering tea and coffee.

They will have heating on so people can come in and turn the heating off at home.

He added: "There needs to be response by the current Government to give people hope. Because if we lose hope we lose everything."

Mr Sunak and Ms Truss have faced growing calls to spell out how they would help with the energy price spike after forecasts showed average bills could hit £4,200 in the new year, leading to critics arguing the country faces a ‘tsunami of human suffering’.

The pair came up against each other in another husting’s showdown in front of Conservative party members as the pair visited Darlington on Tuesday, but were criticised after Ms Truss offered no new direct support and Mr Sunak said he would only offer help to the most vulnerable 

The pair travelled to the North East as part of a UK tour of leadership debates which have been dominated with questions over how the country can cope with the cost-of-living crisis and rising energy bills.  

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