It’s time to get rid of the mindset that low wages and insecure hours are okay for workers in Cornwall “because it’s a seasonal place and that’s what happens”.

Those are the words of Simon Fann, manager of Truro Foodbank, who has seen first-hand the devastating impact on people’s lives of not being able to budget on zero hours contracts and the insecurity of short-notice shift cancellations, particularly in three of Cornwall’s biggest employment sectors – hospitality, retail and care.

The cross-party Social Justice Commission issued a report last year which states that the South West is the worst region in the entire country for insecure hours. Cornwall’s energy advice charity Community Energy Plus found that 12.8 per cent of households nationally are in fuel poverty – that’s if you spend more than ten per cent of your disposable income on energy costs.

In Cornwall that figure is 20 per cent, one in five households, in fuel poverty.

Mr Fann said: “So if you’re in the worst area for fuel poverty and the worst area for insecure hours, it’s no surprise people end up coming to foodbanks and last year we fed nearly 5,800 people, which is a record. That’s why we need to do something – giving out more and more food is not the answer.”

In a bid to make a change, Truro Foodbank is encouraging poorly paid Cornish workers to visit drop-in sessions as part of an investigation into low wages and zero hours contracts, which could lead to a campaign for Cornwall to become a Living Wage Place, where communities and businesses work in partnership to tackle in-work poverty.

“If one of the issues is insecure hours and getting away with minimum wage pay, these two drop-in sessions are part of a campaign to try and encourage employers in Cornwall, whether they’re big or small, to do something about it and act differently,” added Mr Fann. “We want to hear the views of people like those who’ve been forced to use the foodbank because they can’t make ends meet. Many of them are on the minimum wage or worse and some are on zero hours contracts.”

READ NEXT: Foodbank says demand 'greater than ever' after buying in items

Twenty-year-old James, who relies on the foodbank, said: “I was told I was going to get four seven-hour shifts last week at £9 an hour. But my boss cancelled three of them with less than a day’s notice. I had no money for the essentials of life.”

Mr Fann told us: “We had one customer in expecting three eight-hour shifts in a week and got four hours. You can’t budget or run anything on that kind of insecurity, so we wondered what we could do about it.”

People who attend the drop-in sessions can remain anonymous. They’ll be asked a series of questions including:

  • Are you paid less than £12 an hour? Do you think you’re worth more?
  • Have you had shifts cancelled at short notice?
  • Are you on an imposed zero, or very low, hours contact?

Employers, who’re also invited, will be urged to pay the real living wage in future and offer guaranteed hours.

“I can’t speak for all foodbanks, but as far as Truro and Mid Cornwall is concerned what we noticed virtually a year ago, February 2023, was that more people were coming in that were employed. We’ve always helped some employed people like nurses and teachers who perhaps had a big family and one income and couldn’t manage. Now we were noticing an increase in people on minimum wage income or on low or insecure contracts, so either zero hours or very low hours where employers were doing short-notice shift cancellations.

“What we’re looking for is evidence and need. It’s going to be difficult because a lot of people don’t like coming to a foodbank at all, but this is way bigger than a foodbank. You don’t have to be coming to a foodbank to be on the wrong end of low pay or insecure hours.

“This is looking across Cornwall to find out what the implications are for people living on less than £12 a week or insecure pay where they do not know the number of hours they’re going to get from week to week.”

The drop-in meetings are at Perranporth Memorial Hall, on Thursday, February 29, from 6pm until 8pm, and at All Saints Church, Highertown, Truro, on Friday, March 1 between 2pm and 4pm.