West Cheshire Hunger Report

New foodbank research sheds light on who faces hunger, why and for how long.

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“I had been with my partner for 13 years and we have two kids together. My relationship broke down and I lost everything that I’d worked for during the 13 years. I ended up homeless and was put in a shelter. Now I’ve got a room in a hostel… I have never been in this situation before and didn’t know what to do. Without the foodbank, I wouldn’t have anything at all.”

Justin features in #stillhungry, the West Cheshire Hunger Report, released today by West Cheshire Foodbank, Oxford University, and the University of Chester. The report analyses two years of data from more than 5,800 people referred to the foodbank by frontline professionals. People like Justin, who was helped to get back on his feet after losing everything.

Key findings from the report:

  • Crisis can hit anyone: food parcels were distributed to people living in all 46 wards of West Cheshire
  • Benefit delays are responsible for one in five referrals while benefit sanctions are responsible for 1 in 12 referrals. Sanctions were more likely to result in an income crisis lasting 13 weeks or longer than other referral reasons.
  • 1 in 5 of people affected by benefit sanctions are children

Reasons for foodbank use in West Cheshire echoed Trussell Trust findings released earlier this year, which revealed of the record 1.1million emergency food supplies distributed by foodbanks between April 2015 and March 2016, a large proportion related to delays in benefits delivery.

For the West Cheshire Hunger Report, researchers were able to make a specific link between foodbanks and people sanctioned. They found that benefit sanctions caused at least 1 in every 12 referrals, however the total figure is likely to be higher because the research captures only the primary reason for referral.

It’s important to remember that these are real people, going without food on the table, and not just statistics. People like Will, who paid for a chainsaw license course in Preston – 4am starts meant he was unable to apply for enough jobs to meet his Jobseekers Allowance conditions and had his payments stopped for two weeks. When his payments started again, Will had to collect them at 7am, which meant he arrived late to a mandatory work programme appointment. He was sanctioned for two months.

The West Cheshire Hunger Report suggests a number of positive steps to make sure people like Justin and Will don’t find themselves in a crisis again. Steps like ensuring people have secure work and a fair wage, ensuring sanctions are only used when fair and proportionate, and that benefit delays which leave people eligible for support without any, are reduced as far as possible.

How can we reduce the numbers of people needing to access emergency food?

  1. Improve Jobcentre Plus administration and service
  2. Reform benefit sanctions policy and practice
  3. Reform the mandatory reconsideration process
  4. Ensure social security payment levels are adequate
  5. Sustain and improve access to the local welfare assistance scheme
  6. Ensure wages are sufficient and work is secure

Much of the evidence mirrors the experience of our wider network. In ‘Emergency Use Only’ Foodbank Report, work by Oxfam, Child Poverty Action Group, and The Trussell Trust found a similar set of problems and solutions that, if enacted, could significantly reduce foodbank use.

What next? 

The stories we continue to hear are heartbreaking, but there is also cause for hope. The National Living Wage will help ensure that a family breakdown won’t mean a financial crisis. The rate of benefits sanctions has fallen from record highs and the number of foodbank referrals due to benefits sanctions in West Cheshire has halved. A full yellow card system which gave people a second chance before imposing a sanction would help reduce these further.

The foodbank helped Justin to get back on his feet when he had lost his job, house, and family. Foodbanks in the Trussell Trust network, and the hundreds of other faith groups and agencies offering help and support to people in crisis, treat people with dignity and respect, regardless of their situation or belief. Now we need civil society and the new Government to review the evidence and real experiences of people in poverty and work together to help them.

As the Archbishop of York and the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote: “We must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country.”

Read the full report here.