Disabled people are being taught how to scavenge for free food in supermarket skips and dustbins because they can’t afford to feed themselves, as a result of the government’s cuts and welfare reforms.
The workshops are being run in south Wales by members of the Disabled Activists Network Wales (DAN Cymru).
The revelation came from a delegate to the annual conference of the TUC’s Disabled Workers’ Conference in London this week.
Liza Van Zyl, a part-time lecturer and delegate from the University and College Union, told the conference the government was waging “an ideological war against people like me, and I don’t have enough to live on”.
She said: “I have to find supermarket food in skips, along with a lot of others. We run workshops for disabled people about how to find food in skips.”
She told Disability News Service later: “We are just a group of disabled people who carry out direct action because we have been driven to it.”
She added: “We found that it is really difficult for some disabled people to get fresh food and veg. It is far too expensive.
“There was a strong feeling that we wanted to take control of our own lives and not be passive recipients of charity from food banks.”
She said that DAN Cymru organised workshops and was building up a database of information about when particular supermarkets put out food that has passed its sell-by date.
Van Zyl said: “We are building up the skills other disabled people can benefit from.
“There is often one night a week when they take them all out. All over Cardiff we have been assisting people with where to find food and when, what to look for, what to think about, such as perishability.
“There is an awful lot that is useful, particularly fresh fruit and veg. You can collect masses of this and cook it up in a massive stew with things like lentils.”
Last October, a group of DAN Cymru activists, including Van Zyl, attended a meeting of The Co-operative Group’s South Wales area members in Cardiff, and called on the supermarket to make its skips accessible to disabled people, to help them with their scavenging.
A spokeswoman for The Co-operative said: “Upon further discussion with the group, it was agreed that the motion would not be appropriate, and instead they were advised of alternative ways of working with and engaging with The Co-operative on issues regarding disability.”
She added: “The Co-operative does not encourage anyone to scavenge from skips, mainly because of the potential health risks posed by people consuming products that may have gone past their use-by dates or been sat for an unknown period of time without being stored correctly and with no barriers to stop potential cross contamination.”
But Van Zyl said that “skipping” was useful for people who had fallen out of the system, often because they found it too stressful to apply for employment and support allowance (ESA) through the controversial and much-criticised work capability assessment.
One of their activists has been arrested for scavenging in a skip, she said, but “on the whole the police have been incredibly compassionate towards us and they have gone out of their way to facilitate our protests”.
“When we have explained what we are doing, they have tended not to follow through with the arrests.
“They have said: ‘You shouldn’t do this, it’s not safe,’ so we have tried to do this in pairs. A lot of people have mobility issues and they find it very difficult.”
Van Zyl said the group had tried not to be anti-social, and made sure they put the food they cannot use back in the skips or wheelie-bins.
She said: “It is really dirty work but we get donations of latex gloves. Unions have given us things like protective clothing. It’s really yucky work but we encourage people to work safely.”
Van Zyl added: “I have a doctorate from Oxford University and I am being forced to look for food in supermarket skips because of an ideological government policy.
“A lot of us are professional people who just became disabled, often people who are close to retirement age.
“I am not prepared to be ashamed of the fact that I am having to scavenge for food.”
She said the group had sought advice from local squatters and anarchist groups, and lobbied the Public and Commercial Services Union at its annual conference this week to ask members who work in jobcentres to hand out leaflets advertising the scavenging workshops as an alternative to food banks.
Van Zyl said that the £95 a week she receives from ESA – she is in the support group – is the only benefit she claims, while she works a few hours as a part-time lecturer.
She said: “I found applying for ESA was so horrendously stressful that I have not been able to face applying for DLA. I just can’t face it.
“I need to eat, but it is more stressful trying to get the money I need to live on through DLA.”
23 May 2013