Foodbank use remains at record high

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  • Trussell Trust says that one million three day food supplies a year must not become the new normal
  • New University of Hull data mapping suggests important emergent correlation between foodbank use and areas with high numbers of people who are in skilled manual work or unable to work due to long term illness or disability
  • Main drivers of foodbank usage remain benefit problems and low income

Latest figures published by The Trussell Trust today show that foodbank use remains at record levels, rising two percent on last year. 1,109,309 three day emergency food supplies were provided to people in crisis by the charity’s network of 424 foodbanks in the 2015/16 financial year, compared to 1,084,604 in 2014/15. Of this number, 415,866 went to children. This is a measure of volume rather than unique users, and on average, people needed two foodbank referrals in the last year.* [see notes to editor]

For the first time, The Trussell Trust has also partnered with the University of Hull to develop new tools that help us better understand the drivers of foodbank use, and areas of greatest need, by mapping foodbank data against census data.** The early findings of this new research reinforce the trends seen by foodbanks related to benefits problems and low income.


David McAuley, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust says:

“Today’s figures on national foodbank use prove that the numbers of people hitting a crisis where they cannot afford to buy food are still far too high. One million three day food supplies given out by our foodbanks every year is one million too many. This must not become the new normal. Reducing UK hunger will require a collective effort from the voluntary sector, Government, DWP, businesses and the public, and The Trussell Trust is keen to work with all these groups to find solutions that stop so many people needing foodbanks in future.”

Trussell Trust data shows that benefit delays and changes remain the biggest causes of foodbank use, accounting for 42 percent of all referrals (28 percent benefit delay; 14 percent changes), a slight reduction on last year’s 44 percent. Foodbanks report people are still being impacted by sanctions and a mix of delays and changes to various benefits including Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payments (PIP). In some areas foodbanks report increased referrals due to delays and arrears in Universal Credit payments.*** [see additional survey of foodbanks in Notes to Editor]

Low income has risen as a referral cause from 22 percent to 23 percent. Foodbanks report that the main issues that cause working people to be referred were low wages, insecure work, high living costs and problems accessing working benefits.


This year, The Trussell Trust has worked with data scientists, business model specialists and academics to create the UK’s first foodbank data mapping tool, charting crises leading to foodbank use, and comparing 18 months of foodbank data with deprivation indices from the 2011 census and other open data.

Early findings of the NEMODE (New Economic Models in the Digital Economy) report from the University of Hull, Coppelia and AAM Associates suggests that foodbank use is highest in areas where there are more people who are unable to work due to long term sickness or disability; or in skilled manual work.

Simon Raper, a data scientist at Coppelia, says:

“This chart shows the strong correlations emerging at an electoral ward level between foodbank use and the percentage of the population with long term health problems or disabilities or in skilled, manual work.”

This reinforces Trussell Trust data citing benefit problems and low income as the significant drivers of foodbank use. There is also a clear link between foodbank use and areas of high deprivation.


The tool maps Trussell Trust foodbank use and crisis cause by ward (on left, it maps actual foodbank use). The tool uses anonymised postcodes of foodbank clients and maps this against census data to enable identification of gaps in emergency food provision, soThe Trussell Trust and other organisations can explore how that gap can be plugged.

Click for video demonstration and high resolution images.

Using data in this way could help foodbanks, and other agencies, to work out where to target resources and which groups in society are most at risk from hunger.

David McAuley says:

“Both The Trussell Trust’s data and the University of Hull research point to an urgent need to find ways to help reduce the numbers of people experiencing problems with benefits, especially vulnerable people receiving sickness and disability benefits. We also need to ensure that people on low incomes or in insecure work have enough to live on. The introduction of a national living wage is a great start, but more can be done for those in low paid work and unable to work. We need to listen to the experiences of people facing hunger and poverty, and work to find solutions to this problem. We look forward to building a positive relationship with the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with new ideas, in this task.”

Real Voices (some names changed)

When mental health issues hit teaching assistant Kane, he tried to keep working but it made him more ill. Eventually he had to leave his job. At the same time his wife, a nurse, experienced serious complications during her pregnancy and the couple suddenly found themselves temporarily unable to work due to health problems. Later Kane managed to find insecure contract work, but Cheryl’s delayed sick pay meant that on weeks that Kane could not get any hours of work the couple were unable to afford food. Kane would go without to make sure that heavily pregnant Cheryl was able to eat, until they were referred to a foodbank.

Kane says:

“People stereotype people at foodbanks but both myself and my wife are professional people who needed help. We never expected to need a foodbank, but our lives completely changed in two months. You’re only two missed pay cheques away from being in poverty. Just five minutes to breathe can really make all the difference, that’s why foodbanks are such a lifeline.”

Community Impact:

The Trussell Trust’s 424 foodbanks are run in partnership with churches and communities. During the last year over 40,000 volunteers helped at foodbanks and the UK public donated 10,570 tonnes of food.

According to a recent survey, 96 percent of Trussell Trust foodbanks now offer additional services to help people break out of crisis faster and reduce the need for repeat referrals, such as legal advice, clothing banks, housing support and welfare advice. 63 percent of foodbanks partner with local charities and agencies in their community to provide these services, and The Trussell Trust increasingly supports foodbanks to provide on-site debt and money advice, fuel banks and budget cookery courses. The charity is rolling out its Martin Lewis funded debt and money advice programme in 30 more foodbanks this year.


Notes to Editor

How Trussell Trust foodbanks work:

  • Trussell Trust foodbanks provide three days’ nutritionally balanced food and support to people in crisis in the UK. We also signpost people to other agencies and services able to help resolve the underlying cause of the crisis. As part of the charity’s More Than Food approach, many foodbanks also host additional services like debt/money advice, cooking and budgeting course sand holiday clubs.
  • Everyone who comes to a Trussell Trust foodbank is referred by a professional such as a social worker, health visitor or schools liaison officer. Over 30,000 frontline professionals refer people to Trussell Trust foodbanks, and 50 percent are statutory agencies.
  • Over 90 percent of food given out by Trussell Trust foodbanks is donated by the public. In 2015-16, 10,570 tonnes of food were given out to people in crisis.
  • The Trussell Trust is a charity motivated by Christian principles that runs a network of 424 of foodbanks in the UK. For more on The Trussell Trust visit

*Trussell Trust foodbank statistics:

Trussell Trust statistics are collected using an online data collection system into which foodbanks enter the data from each foodbank voucher. The system records numbers given three day emergency food supplies. The Trussell Trust is measuring volume –the number of people to whom it has given three days’ food supply (containing enough food for 10 meals). The Trussell Trust has consistently measured figures in this way and reports them at the middle and end of each financial year. Trussell Trust figures clearly state that we are counting the number of people to whom three days’ food has been given, but these are not necessarily unique people. Our data system is beginning to capture numbers of unique foodbank users on a national scale, and whilst it is too early to accurately use this figure, detailed evidence collected from a range of foodbanks indicates that on average, people needed 2 foodbank referrals in one year, leading us to estimate that approximately 554,000 people are likely to have been unique users.

  • Trussell Trust data collection seeks to comply with ONS guidance. The Trussell Trust receives technical advice from a former senior government statistician, and has consulted with a range of statisticians ahead of publication.
  • ‘Benefit delays’ refer to people not receiving benefits to which they are entitled on time, this category can also include problems with processing new claims, or any other time lags in people receiving their welfare payments.
  • ‘Benefit changes’ refers to the problems resulting from a change in people’s welfare payments, for example, people having their benefits stopped whilst they are reassessed. This can also include a sanction.
  • ‘Low income’ refers to anyone who is struggling to get by on a low income. This could be people in work, or people on benefits, for whom a small crisis e.g. boiler breaking down or having to buy school uniform etc, can be enough to mean that they cannot afford food.

Trussell Trust figures cannot be used to fully explain the scale of the food poverty across the UK, because our figures only relate to Trussell Trust foodbanks and not to the hundreds of other independent food aid providers. There is no official data on other food aid projects, but estimates suggest that there are likely to be the same number again of non-Trussell Trust food bank style projects in the UK.

**New Research by the University of Hull’s‘New Economic Models in the Digital Economy’ (NEMODE) project:

  • The Trussell Trust has worked with data scientists, business model specialists and academics from the University of Hull and the commercial sector to create the UK’s first ever dynamic visualisation tool for crises leading to foodbank use, mapping 18 months of foodbank data against deprivation indices from the 2011 census and other open data.
  • Although currently in early stages of development, this unique platform could allow other food aid providers and agencies making crisis interventions to add their own data to open data and foodbank data. This would enable us to track the use of local support services, work out where there is unmet need, and evaluate the root causes and effectiveness of interventions.
  • For more information on what the initial findings of the new research suggests, see the summary report here.

***Trussell Trust foodbank survey

A recent survey of 88 Trussell Trust foodbanks conducted in March-April 2016 gave greater depth of insight into foodbank use in the UK, some of which is included in this release.

Significant findings:

  • 93% of foodbanks reported ‘administrative delays in benefit payments’ as an issue driving foodbank use; for 81% of whom it is a major issue.
  • 75% of foodbanks reported low wages were a significant problem for working people referred to the foodbank. 56% reported insecure work contracts, 47% reported high living costs, and 44% reported problems accessing working benefits as other significant problems for working people.
  • 67% of foodbanks reported problems accessing ESA as an issue driving foodbank use, and 51% reported problems accessing PIP as an issue driving foodbank use.
  • Almost half of the foodbanks surveyed reported seeing an increase over the last year in the proportion of people coming to their foodbank as a result of benefit sanctions; 89% of foodbanks reported benefit sanctions as an issue driving foodbank use and for 60% it is a major issue.

Wider results can be found here.


Spokespeople, foodbank visits, regional breakdowns and, where possible, client case studies, available on request.

Molly Hodson – Head of Media: [email protected] 020 3745 5979

Andy May – Head of Public Affairs: [email protected]

Emma Thorogood – Assistant Press Officer: [email protected] 020 3137 3699

Abby Jitendra – Press Assistant: [email protected] 020 3745 5981

The Trussell Trust is a Reg. Charity in England & Wales (1110522) and Scotland (SC044246). Reg. Ltd. Co. in England & Wales (5434524)