UK foodbank use continues to rise

UK foodbank use continues to rise as new report highlights growing impact of Universal Credit rollout on foodbanks.

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  • Over 1,182,000 three day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in past year – 436,000 to children
  • New report on Universal Credit reveals adverse side effects on people claiming and foodbanks providing help
  • The Trussell Trust welcomes Damian Green’s willingness to work with frontline charities and calls for more flexibility and support to help people moving to Universal Credit

UK foodbank use continues to rise according to new data from anti-poverty charity, The Trussell Trust. Between 1st April 2016 and 31st March 2017, The Trussell Trust’s Foodbank Network provided 1,182,954 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis compared to 1,109,309 in 2015-16. Of this number, 436,938 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]

The charity’s new report, Early Warnings: Universal Credit and Foodbanks, highlights that although the rollout of the new Universal Credit system for administering benefits has been piecemeal so far, foodbanks in areas of partial or full rollout are reporting significant problems with its impact.

Key findings from the report reveal:

  • Foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout to single people, couples and families, have seen a 16.85% average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64%.
  • The effect of a 6+ week waiting period for a first Universal Credit payment can be serious, leading to foodbank referrals, debt, mental health issues, rent arrears and eviction. These effects can last even after people receive their Universal Credit payments, as bills and debts pile up.
  • People in insecure or seasonal work are particularly affected, suggesting the work incentives in Universal Credit are not yet helping everyone.
  • Navigating the online system can be difficult for people struggling with computers or unable to afford telephone helplines. In some cases, the system does not register people’s claims correctly, invalidating it.
  • Foodbanks are working hard to stop people going hungry in areas of rollout, by providing food and support for more than two visits to the foodbank and working closely with other charities to provide holistic support. However, foodbanks have concerns about the extra pressure this puts on food donation stocks and volunteers’ time and emotional welfare.

Trussell Trust data also reveals that benefit delays and changes remain the biggest cause of referral to a foodbank, accounting for 43 percent of all referrals (26 percent benefit delay; 17 percent benefit change), a slight rise on last year’s 42 percent.  Low income has also risen as a referral cause from 23 percent to 26 percent.

primary-referral-causes-2016-2017

Key recommendations from the report:

  • Recent positive engagement between The Department for Work and Pensions and The Trussell Trust at a national level is welcome. However, more information about the shape and form of Universal Support locally, particularly ahead of full UC rollout in an area, would bring clarity to foodbanks.
  • A reduction of the six week waiting period for Universal Credit would make a significant difference to people’s ability to cope with no income. The ‘waiting period’, the time before the assessment period begins, could be reduced first.
  • More flexibility in the administration of Universal Credit is needed to support people moving onto the new system. For example, more support for people applying online who are unfamiliar with digital technology, and support to improve people’s ability to move into work and stay in work.

Responding to today’s report, David McAuley, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust said,

“The move to simplify an often complex welfare system is a welcome one but any large reform can have unforeseen consequences. Foodbanks see first-hand how changes to the welfare system affect people on the ground, and so can offer an early warning to decision-makers. We are sharing our early observations with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure any adverse side effects Universal Credit can have on people are addressed before full rollout is completed. We have been heartened by Secretary of State Damian Green’s willingness to engage, his department’s work to pilot improvements, and the recent changes to the Universal Credit taper rate which mean people moving into work will keep more of their earnings. We hope our insights can inform efforts to make sure the values on which Universal Credit is built are delivered in practice. To stop UK hunger we must make sure the welfare system really does work for everyone.”

The Trussell Trust is calling for help from the public to make sure people in crisis get the support they need. To make a donation to The Trussell Trust or find out how to help a local foodbank, please visit www.trusselltrust.org

UK Map - regional breakdown 2016-2017

Ends

Notes to Editor

Early Warnings: Universal Credit and Foodbanks can be accessed by clicking on the link.

Contact:

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

Please contact The Trussell Trust media team on 020 3137 3699 / press@trusselltrust.org. Out of hours call 07789 642 727.

The Trussell Trust:

  • The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity that runs a network of over 420 foodbanks across the UK.
  • Trussell Trust foodbanks provide three days’ nutritionally balanced food and support to people in crisis in the UK, and many foodbanks offer free additional services, like money advice and budget cookery courses as part of the charity’s ‘More Than Food’ approach, to build resilience and help prevent people needing referral to a foodbank again. Foodbank volunteers are also trained to signpost people to other agencies and services able to help resolve the underlying cause of the crisis.
  • 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 2016-17, 11,175 tonnes of food were given to people in crisis.
  • The Trussell Trust is a charity motivated by Christian principles. For more on The Trussell Trust visit trusselltrust.org

*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 591,477 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 foodbank style projects in the UK.