A PENSIONER behind an Oxford food bank says he is seeing growing demand and blamed Universal Credit for a rise in local food poverty.

Mark Roberts, who runs the Cutteslowe food bank from a garage in Hawksmoor Road with the help of three other volunteers, is also urging locals to donate and is in need of a van to help with deliveries.

The 73-year-old says he has served about 1,500 people since starting the food bank last year, and sees between 20 and 50 people in need – including children – most weeks.

He said: “We are more like an emergency food bank than a normal food bank: if someone turns up, we will help them.

“Poverty is going up in the area and Universal Credit is the main reason.”

Mr Roberts said the Government initiative, designed to make benefits simpler and encourage people into work – but strongly criticised by numerous organisations – made it harder for poorer people to cope because money is paid monthly rather than weekly.

He added that an influx of new houses into the area would also increase demand.

Mr Roberts is appealing for people to be generous at donation points around the city, particularly with tinned goods, tea and coffee.

The majority of his supplies come from the Oxford Food Bank, various Sainsburys and the charity Fareshare.

He also said that the use of a van would help deliver to people who struggle to get out to the food bank. It currently delivers food to elderly people, the disabled and families who have lost loved one, Mr Roberts said.

He continued: “We are helping the community and supporting people with children until they don’t need us anymore. If we are not there, those people would have to go much further away.

“Officially, I don’t think food banks should be necessary but the way the world is going means we do need them.”

Lib Dem councillor for Oxford Andrew Gant said: “The Conservative government since 2015 has slashed benefits to a far greater extent than necessary and we are aware of the impact of the botched rollout of Universal Credit, which is causing real hardship.

“Poverty is often hidden but I am aware that there are pressures on people in the ward which have been exacerbated by changes to benefits.”

Many have suggested that the problems date back to policies introduced by the coalition government from 2010.

Mr Gant said he supported the council in making sure the food bank was run ‘by the book’.

Mr Roberts’ admitted his operation, run from a garage he rents from the city council, does not necessarily match up to all of the authority's regulations, but the council said it was prepared to be flexible so long as certain minimum requirements were met.