Posts in '2018'

New NAO report on Universal Credit highlights hardship & foodbank use

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Responding to the National Audit Office report about the roll out of Universal Credit, Emma Revie, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, said,

“No one should need to turn to a foodbank. Our benefits system was built to end hunger and destitution – Universal Credit can and must continue that legacy, but if it is to do so we need payments to cover the cost of essentials, more support in place for groups of people most likely to need a foodbank, and debt advice to be offered to everyone moving onto the new system.

“Foodbanks have seen firsthand the impact on people faced with the unavoidable side effect of increasing debt, right at the very moment when there is little or no money coming in at all: young families facing eviction, working parents skipping meals, and single men with insecure work struggling to afford the bus fare to work.

“We’re a country that prides itself on making sure proper support is in place for each other whenever help is most needed, whether that is through our health service or benefits system – what is clear from the NAO today is that more must be done, and urgently, before Universal Credit can be seen as part of this tradition.”

Recent analysis of foodbank data found foodbanks in The Trussell Trust network that have been in full UC rollout areas for a year or more have seen a 52% average increase in use the twelve months after the full rollout date. Foodbanks not in full UC areas, or only in full rollout for up for three months, showed an average increase of 13%.

This chimes with the findings of the NAO, which found that in 3 of the 4 areas they visited, the use of foodbanks increased more rapidly after UC full service was rolled out in the area.

For more about Universal Credit and foodbank use click here.

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Why the Government’s announcement on disability benefits means fewer people will need foodbanks

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Abby Jitendra, Policy and Research Manager

Every week foodbanks in our network meet people with health conditions or disabilities who, without emergency help from the local community, would have faced going hungry. Just as we all expect to be able to access free healthcare anywhere in the UK, we would expect that if you are struggling to get by because of a health condition, sufficient financial support would be available. But poor administration and continued reductions in disabled people’s benefit payments mean the welfare safety net, which should be freeing people from the restraints of poverty, is locking people in.

That’s why the Government’s announcement last week on disability benefits is such a positive step. The Secretary of State announced that people receiving the Severe Disability Premium, an additional payment given to people receiving benefits due to health conditions, would not be moved onto Universal Credit. The Government also announced that the people who had moved onto Universal Credit but had lost their Severe Disability Premium in the change would be backdated payments.

The Severe Disability Premium is, for half a million people in the UK, a lifeline which allows people with some of the most serious and life-altering disabilities, such as blindness or severe motor impairment, to support themselves more easily.

Weekly, it amounts to £64.30 for a single person and £128.60 for a couple, which pays for essentials like transport and shelter for people whose health conditions mean a significantly higher cost of living. And it can mean the difference between needing a foodbank and being able to feed yourself and your family.

We know that disabled people and people with long-term health conditions are more likely to need a foodbank than any other group – our research with the University of Oxford found that half of all households using foodbanks contained someone who was disabled, while three-quarters included someone with a long term health condition. A clear way to reduce destitution in the UK would be to ensure these people have enough to live on.

But research shows people with health conditions are increasingly more likely to find themselves in financial difficulty and debt, which makes top-up payments for disabled people essential.

 

Under the current system, people are arbitrarily losing this lifeline simply through the postcode lottery of living in an area with full Universal Credit service, and simply because they are a few months before ‘managed migration’. This is the manual migration of claimants onto the new system, for which there is ‘transitional protection’ (a guarantee that your Universal Credit award will be the same amount, or higher, than your current benefit payment if you are moving from legacy benefits). But this only applies to people who aren’t already on Universal Credit by the time the department start manually moving them to the new system.

Even more importantly, though, because benefit levels under the Universal Credit payment structure tend to be less generous, transitional protection provides a strong defence against the erosion of your benefit payments. There have been cuts to disability benefits more generally, as well as child benefits, and the benefits freeze means that all benefits have lost value over the last two years, and will continue to do so unless they are uprated in line with inflation.

Our Left Behind research looking at the experience of being on Universal Credit found that only 5% of respondents with a health condition said their full Universal Credit payment covered their cost of living, compared to 8% of respondents who did not state any health condition. As one respondent said:

‘Universal Credit is a lot less than Jobseeker’s Allowance with a disability premium which is what I used to be on.’

When the changes announced by the Secretary of State kick in, not only will people be able keep more of their money, they also won’t have to wait five or more weeks for their first payment, will continue to be paid more frequently, and won’t need to look for more hours if they are already in work. And it’ll mean that some of the most vulnerable people in our country will be less likely to need a foodbank in the future.

It’s not all good – people receiving disability premiums or enhanced disability premiums will not be helped by this change – they still stand to lose hundreds of pounds a year if they move onto Universal Credit before managed migration. Even with transitional protection, if they have a change of circumstances, such as moving to a new area, they will be reassessed and most likely lose out.

And last week the Department’s own commissioned research admitted that claimants with long-term health conditions were ‘faring less well’ under Universal Credit, with incomes and labour prospects in this group stagnating.

Our benefits system was created to protect people from destitution. Clearly, there is more that needs to be done to make sure disabled people don’t fall through the cracks and find themselves at a foodbank.

But this is a positive step towards recognising the key principle on which the welfare state was built: making sure people have enough money to live on is the best defence against poverty, and it’s a defence we all expect to be able to access when it’s most needed.

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What’s in a Trussell Trust foodbank parcel and why?

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Samantha Stapley, Director of Operations:

Foodbanks in our network use standard packing lists for each emergency food parcel that goes to someone in crisis. This is to ensure a balanced supply of food, whatever the household size, is provided to everyone referred – you can see an example of a list for a single person below.

This standard list is why you’ll often see foodbanks in our network asking publically for very different things – although there are some items that foodbanks often run low on across the board (UHT milk and coffee are good examples of these, whereas they’re all often very well stocked up on baked beans and tinned soup!), individual foodbanks often need different items to make up this balanced parcel. So it’s always best to check with your local foodbank about which items are most helpful if you’re thinking of making a donation – you can find your local foodbank’s contact details via our ‘Find a Foodbank’ map.

Nutrition guidelines change over time, so we are continually consulting with nutritionists to check our parcel still meets recommendations for emergency provision – on average, people come to a Trussell Trust foodbank twice in a year, so parcels really are for short-term use. You can read the latest report on our standard parcel here. Thank you so much to Dr Darren Hughes, Edwina Prayogo and Dr George Grimble at University College London for your work on this.

In line with the recommendations made, we’ve been putting some changes into practice: for example, removing 500g of sugar from standard parcels and suggesting to foodbanks in our network that it is instead placed on a ‘help yourself’ table, so if someone wants sugar for their tea or coffee, they can make that decision themselves – obviously a big part of not having enough money for food is having choice taken away from you entirely, so foodbanks in our network work hard to provide that element of choice for people.

That’s why foodbanks will also ask people about any preferences on flavours or items on the packing list, and if donations allow for it, changes will be made so that someone is taking home food they like. There’s no point giving someone tinned sardines if they only like tinned tuna! We know there’s always room for improvement so we’ll be looking at the other recommendations in the new report closely over the coming months to ensure our network’s standard parcel offer is as strong as it can be.

On top of the standard parcel, many foodbanks in our network do offer fresh food where they are able to safely – for example, fruit, vegetables, eggs and bread.

At the moment not every foodbank in our network can handle perishable food safely – the majority of our foodbank centres are based in churches in a ‘pop up’ way for a few hours, not built-for-purpose buildings – and the safety of people referred to us has to be our first priority.  But we’re committed to providing the best possible service for people which is why we’re pleased our new partnership with Asda and FareShare will support foodbanks to offer more to people that come to them in crisis. One element of this partnership will be supporting more foodbanks to have the opportunity to safely offer fresh food alongside the standard parcel, helping with things like refrigeration and transporting perishable food.

Another key part is providing grant opportunities directly to foodbanks in our network, helping projects to access more training, volunteer resources, support and funding to provide not only emergency food to people but also wider support. Projects foodbanks run such a budget cookery courses and holiday clubs that provide fresh meals on the day, and help to build confidence and dignity, will be supported through this.

Whilst all of this additional support will make a real difference to people at foodbanks in the immediate future, ultimately, the best thing is for people to have enough money to make their own choices about what to buy. That has to be our end goal. We want to see a future where there is no need for foodbanks.

This is why we’re determined to continue tackling the root causes of hunger in the long term. The final thing the partnership will fund is The State of Hunger, a three-year piece of landmark research into the drivers of foodbank use. We’ll be using the findings to campaign for systemic policy change on the structural issues that leave people facing hunger. We’ll never stop speaking truth to power – people may only come to a foodbank in our network twice in a year, but that is two times too many.

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‘You can’t live on thin air’: the wait for Universal Support

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Abby Jitendra, Senior Policy Officer at The Trussell Trust

 

‘I am sick, disabled, and visually impaired, hard of hearing. No help has been offered. I had to go ask my local church for help.’

The impact of Universal Credit on society in the UK is only just beginning to be felt. By 2022, all existing eligible claimants – 12 million people – still on the legacy benefits system will have been migrated to the new system. Universal Credit is, by design, a departure from the legacy benefits system, and the transition has already had wide-ranging effects on claimants, statutory bodies, and voluntary organisations.

For vulnerable customers, such as disabled people, people with mental health issues, this support is even more crucial, as these are the groups most likely to fall through the cracks of the new system and, as University of Oxford research shows, most likely to need a foodbank’s help.

The wait for the first payment, in particular, has been identified in our research, Left Behind, as a key trigger for crisis, and it has lasting effects such as debt, mental health issues, and relationship breakdown. Not targeting help effectively at this time can negatively impact a claimant’s journey through the system and leave them more susceptible to financial shocks and less likely to find work.

 

Where is Universal Support?

Which begs the question: where is Universal Support, the Government’s flagship system of helping claimants transition onto the system, and is it working?

The program now refers to the budgeting advice (PBS) and assisted digital support (ADS) offered to claimants by Work Coaches. When we asked foodbank managers whether they knew what Universal Support was, most respondents said they didn’t know. When we asked people referred to foodbanks whether they’d been offered help during the wait for the first payment, 63% said they hadn’t. Of those that had, the majority had been offered help from a third sector organisation. In fact, some foodbanks were having to provide digital support themselves to make sure people can use the system properly, burdening their own operations.

This help is clearly needed. 70% of respondents to our survey said debt was an issue during the wait, the most likely difficulty encountered by people. These debts lasted well into the claim – the most common issue encountered by claimants on UC were repayments of pre-existing debts, while 1 in 5 had issues repaying their advance payment. Half of our sample cited ‘difficulty managing budgets’ as a direct outcome of the wait for the first payment, and many others cited IT difficulties in their applications. And over a quarter of people in our research reported IT issues whilst on Universal Credit, particularly disabled people, and IT difficulties were cited as a key trigger for failing to meet requirements.

Our evidence points to the uneasy fact that Universal Support is either not available consistently, or is not reaching the people most in need of it. And yet, without it, Universal Credit runs the risk of failing not only its stated aims of getting people into work and making work pay, but also the central role of any public service built on justice and compassion – protecting our most vulnerable citizens from falling into crisis, which, as a nation committed to justice and compassion, must be central to the role of any welfare reform.

So, how can we fix Universal Support?

First, make sure it’s available locally, make sure the people who need it are getting it, and make sure people are made aware of it. We know financial need may not be evident in the first Work Coach interview, so this must be available within the first year of a claim, and frontline voluntary services must be made aware of this help so they can refer people into Universal Support. Foodbanks would be well placed to refer people for budgeting or digital support if made aware of it.

But foodbanks can’t replace this vital help. Beyond ensuring people in need are offered the help already promised, and making sure that appropriate help is available beyond the transition onto U.C., Universal Support should do more to tackle the specific issues associated with Universal Credit’s design.

Debt is not only an outcome of Universal Credit’s design, but a feature of it.

It’s vital that debt advice and management be offered within Universal Support. Debt is not only an outcome of Universal Credit’s design, but a feature of it. Advance payments – loans given to claimants during the wait for the first payment – build debt into the Universal Credit system from the onset, and we know they can push people back into crisis during repayments. Debt can lead to financial need and digital exclusion, and make it more difficult for people to meet their requirements.

We’re encouraged that the Work and Pensions Select Committee are looking into Universal Support, and have invited The Trussell Trust to give evidence – we’re one of the first organisations to look at provision systematically and make evidence-based policy recommendations. Our calls won’t fix everything – to be truly universal, Universal Credit must provide enough financial support for people to protect them from destitution, and that will mean increasing benefit levels across the board, particularly for families and disabled people.

But fixing Universal Support is an opportunity to make real change now, and ensure the system can live up to its name.

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Yes, Universal Credit should make work pay – but the benefits system must protect us all from hunger

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Garry Lemon, Head of External Affairs at The Trussell Trust:

Since its inception we have supported – and still support – the key principles of Universal Credit. We agree that a simplified benefits system that is easier to navigate would help millions of people across the UK. We agree that work should always pay for those supported by this new benefit.

But there is a third principle that must underpin our entire welfare state: it must provide enough money for those who need it to afford the basics – at the very least, food and shelter. As a nation, we expect no one should be left hungry or destitute. Illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job can happen to any of us. We owe it to ourselves to ensure sufficient financial support is there when we need it most.

Yet figures and research we release today reveal that for more and more people, financial support from benefits is not enough for them to make ends meet. Instead of being helped back onto their feet, or being able to live a dignified life, people who need support are locked into debt, hunger, destitution and misery.

Last year The Trussell Trust distributed a record 1.33million emergency food packages to people referred to our foodbanks, an increase of 13% compared to the year before. Where Universal Credit – the future of our benefits system – has seen full roll-out, demand for emergency food is rising even more sharply.

Data gathered by our foodbank volunteers shows this acceleration in demand for emergency food is being driven by people who are not currently earning, and are meant to be supported by benefits. A survey of hundreds of people in foodbanks claiming Universal Credit shows that only 8% found their cost of living covered. For people with a disability, that number drops to just 5%.

We collected stories of a stroke victim left with nothing when discharged from hospital as their benefits were stopped, a woman whose husband suffers PTSD with no money for the electric meter, a diabetic with no money to eat, even a mother who considered giving up her own two children while she waited for her Universal Credit to come in so that they could finally get some food.

Tens of billions of pounds have been taken out of our welfare system in recent years and this process shows no sign of stopping. This year will see the biggest benefit cuts since 2012 with the ongoing benefit freeze, a two child limit for benefit claims, cuts to tax credits and rollout of Universal Credit which has lower entitlements for long term sick people and working families in particular.

We see the consequences of these policy decisions every day in our foodbanks up and down the UK. Three quarters of households using foodbanks have someone with a health condition or disability. Families with children, especially single parents, are overrepresented – exactly the groups of people that are more likely to need the protection of an effective benefits safety net.

With hundreds of thousands of men, women and children needing emergency food last year, the scale of this problem might seem insurmountable. But it was in large part policy decisions that got us into this situation, and it will be policy decisions that will be the driving force behind getting us out.

In the last Autumn Budget the Chancellor announced £1.5billion was to be put back into the Universal Credit system to shorten waiting times and ease repayment of benefit advances. Recently it was announced that 18 to 21-year-olds would again be able to claim housing benefit.  Though not a silver bullet, these decisions from government will make a real difference to thousands of people who might otherwise have fallen into poverty and hunger.

But we must go further.  Like any other vital emergency service, we need a benefit system that can be relied upon when we need it. There are actions that can be taken to move us towards that, starting with an end to the ongoing benefit freeze and better support for people claiming Universal Credit, which too often leaves people in deep financial crisis through poor administration and inadequate communication and support for claimants.

Yes, Universal Credit should make work pay. Yes, the system should be simplified. But we must never lose sight of that third principle – a welfare state that protects everyone from poverty and hunger.

 

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“Benefit levels must keep pace with rising cost of essentials” as record increase in foodbank figures is revealed

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Between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018, The Trussell Trust’s foodbank network distributed 1,332,952 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, a 13% increase on the previous year. 484,026 of these went to children. This is a higher increase than the previous financial year, when foodbank use was up by 6.64%.

For the first time, new national data highlights the growing proportion of foodbank referrals due to benefit levels not covering the costs of essentials, driving the increase in foodbank use overall. ‘Low income – benefits, not earning’ is the biggest single, and fastest growing, reason for referral to a foodbank, with ‘low income’ accounting for 28% of referrals UK-wide compared to 26% in the previous year. Analysis of trends over time demonstrates it has significantly increased since April 2016, suggesting an urgent need to look at the adequacy of current benefit levels.** (more…)

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Call for child benefits freeze to be lifted as new report shows families with children are most likely to need foodbanks

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  • Families with children make up over half of foodbank users, who are more likely to have dependent children than the UK average
  • Households with children at foodbanks are more likely to be in work than households without children, but the average equivalised income of working families stands at just £419 per month, less than half of the low-income threshold for the UK and well below the Minimum Income Standard for families
  • Single parents reported rising food and housing costs as particular issues whilst couple parents were more likely to be facing a double-burden of childcare and ill-health

Analysis published today by the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Sheffield sheds new light on the type of families using foodbanks in The Trussell Trust’s network and highlights that families with dependent children are more likely than other family types to use foodbanks. 70% of families at foodbanks have dependent children, compared to just 42% in the general UK population. Single parent households are particularly at risk of needing a foodbank – they are almost two times more prevalent among households at foodbanks compared to the general population. (more…)

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Calls grow for Government measure of ‘hidden hunger’ as new figures show 1 in 4 parents skipping meals because of lack of money

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  • Over 1 in 10 adults and almost 1 in 4 parents with children aged 18 and under skipping meals because of lack of money
  • Majority of adults (3 in 5) have seen food bills go up in last 3 months, reflecting higher food inflation
  • 77% of adults agree the Government should measure household food insecurity**
  • Coalition of food poverty charities, End Hunger UK, calls for national measure of household food insecurity to tackle ‘hidden hunger’ crisis

New figures released today show the extent of ‘hidden hunger’ across Britain, with 16% of adults either skipping or seeing someone in their household skipping meals, 14% worrying about not having enough food to eat, and 8% going a whole day without eating because of lack of money in the last 12 months. People are seeing higher food bills, with 59% of adults seeing their groceries costing more in the last three months compared with the same period before.

Parents of children aged 18 and under are particularly food insecure, with 23% either skipping or seeing someone in their household skipping a meal due to a lack of money, 23% worrying about not having enough food to eat, and 13% going without eating for a whole day in the last 12 months. Parents with primary school-age children (aged 5-11) fared worst, with 27% either skipping or seeing someone in their household skipping meals to make ends meet in the last 12 months.

People in work didn’t fare better than the average, with similar figures for skipping meals, working about not having enough to eat and going a whole day without eating. However, the  survey also suggests other groups, such as people not in work and 18-24 year olds, face dangerous levels of food insecurity. 36% of unemployed people had skipped a meal and 28% had gone a whole day without eating, while 23% of 18-24 year olds had skipped a meal and 20% worried about not having enough food to eat.

Most (77%) of adults think the Government should monitor how many people in the UK are food insecure. Anti-poverty charity The Trussell Trust has reported that foodbank use is set to hit record numbers this financial year, but these figures do not include independent foodbanks (which make up around a 1/3 of the total number of UK foodbanks[1]), other food aid providers, or people who skip meals without asking for help.

Foodbank figures also cannot capture people who rely on friends and family or discount food to get by. Today’s figures show 21% of adults bought cheaper or discounted food out of necessity, while almost 1 in 10 (8%) relied on friends and family for a meal, highlighting the scale of ‘hidden hunger’. Parents with children aged 18 and under were even more likely to rely on friends and family (11%) or buy cheap or discounted food (28%).

In response to today’s new statistics, End Hunger UK, a coalition of food poverty organisations which includes The Trussell Trust, the Food Foundation, and the Independent Food Aid Network, have called on the Government to commit to measuring household food insecurity.

Emma Lewell-Buck, MP for South Shields and author of a bill on measuring food insecurity, said today:

‘Now is the time for the government to sit up and tackle the growing issue of hunger in our country. Whilst the Government has carried out snapshot measures of food insecurity, these are piecemeal and don’t allow for assessment of long-term trends. We know that 1.1 million food parcels are given out in Trussell Trust foodbanks alone but these figures are clearly the tip of the iceberg. – the United Nations has estimated over 8 million people in the UK are food insecure; approximately 2000 food banks and foodbank centres are in operation; rising levels of hospital admissions due to malnutrition cost the NHS £12bn per year; and there are record levels of in-work poverty.

Without a robust system of household food insecurity measurement in place, making policy to mitigate hunger will never become a reality. It is clear that the time for action is now and urgent. That’s why I’m taking a bill to Parliament to make the Government measure hidden hunger, because what gets measured gets mended.’

Laura Sandys, Chair and Founder of the Food Foundation, said today:

‘The research shows that more and more of British families are unable to provide regular meals and are frequently anxious about providing the basics –  food on the table for their families. Not only is this unacceptable in 21st Century Britain but we have to start counting the health and social consequences for the next generation. We know that food insecurity can trigger a range of unhealthy eating habits and force people to buy cheaper, less nutritious and more calorific food. This Government has an opportunity to lead the fight against this hidden hunger by measuring household food insecurity and making sure people can afford to feed themselves and their families a healthy diet.’

ENDS

Notes

**Food insecurity is defined as going hungry, at risk of going hungry or worried about going hungry due to not being able to afford food

Methodology

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2032 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16th – 17th January 2018.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

End Hunger UK is supported by many national organisations, including: Baptist Union of Great Britain; Church Action on Poverty, Church of Scotland; First Steps Nutrition, Food Bank As It Is, Magic Breakfast; National Federation of Women’s Institutes; Nourish Scotland; Food Ethics Council; Food Matters; Oxfam GB; The Food Foundation; The Methodist Church; The Trussell Trust; Independent Food Aid Network; Student Christian Movement; Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming; Quakers in Britain and United Reformed Church.

 

[1]Mapping the UK’s Independent Foodbanks’, 2017, Independent Food Aid Network. http://www.foodaidnetwork.org.uk/mapping

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Trussell Trust response to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement

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‘The Chancellor’s Spring Statement today offers an economy that works for some, but not all. The evidence from foodbanks is clear – for people who could struggle to find or cannot manage full time employment, the economy isn’t working. Disabled people and those with health issues are over-represented in foodbanks, along with families with children – especially single parents.

We urge the Chancellor to address these issues in the Budget later this year, specifically by unfreezing and uprating in line with inflation rates levels of child tax credits and child benefits in Universal Credit, and by ensuring work pays for parents as the new system rolls out by allowing families to keep more of what they earn. Reversing cuts to disability benefits and improving financial support for people on disabilities on Universal Credit will also help ensure fewer people need a foodbank referral in the future.’

Garry Lemon, Head of External Affairs

Read more about our research and advocacy work here, and read our groundbreaking research with the University of Oxford and Kings College, London, here.

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We smile, offer a cuppa and have a wee chat: what’s it actually like inside a foodbank?

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If you’ve caught any news over the past few years, you’ve probably heard a fair bit about the rise in foodbank use.

But it’s hard to imagine what a foodbank is actually like if you’ve never been inside one.

I run Hamilton District Foodbank. We work across Hamilton and Blantyre in South Lanarkshire, and have been giving emergency food to people referred to us since 2013 – in 2016-17 we provided 4,015 food supplies to local people. But like so many other foodbanks in The Trussell Trust’s network, we offer a lot more than emergency food. (more…)

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