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.

Over 80% of families with children at foodbanks were classed as severely food insecure (meaning they had skipped meals and gone without eating, sometimes for days at a time) in the past 12 months because of a lack of money. It is known that severe experiences of food insecurity underlie foodbank use, and this was clearly the case for families with children.

Despite 31% of couple families and 21% of single parent families including a working adult (compared to 15% of households at foodbanks), employment did not adequately protect households from needing a foodbank. The equivalised average household income for families with an adult in work was just £419 for the month before needing a foodbank, and while this is significantly higher than the figure for families without work (£277), this is well below the low-income threshold for the UK (£1050 a month after housing costs).

There were clear differences in the issues affecting single parent and couple families. Although both single parent and couple families reported experiencing rising or unexpected costs in the past three months, single parents at foodbanks were most likely to report rising costs of food and housing as issues, whilst couple parents were more likely to be facing a double burden of childcare and ill-health. For 80% of couple families, at least one family member had a health condition and common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety affected 40%.

The incomes of all families with children at foodbanks were well below the Minimum Income Standards (MIS  – the income level based on what members of the public think people need to achieve a socially acceptable living standard.) set for the UK in April 2017. For couple families with two children (MIS: £2,056), 65% received less than £500 in the past month whilst 96% received less than £1000. For single parent families with one child (MIS: £1338), 76% received less than £500 in the past month whilst 97% received less than £1000.

Dr Rachel Loopstra, the lead author of the report and Lecturer in Nutrition at King’s College London, said:

“Our findings draw urgent attention to the severe food insecurity and poverty experienced by families with children who are receiving help from foodbanks. Low-income families with children have experienced significant reductions in welfare entitlements in recent years, and entitlements will be reduced further for low-income families given changes to Child Tax Credits and the ongoing benefit freeze in the context of rising living costs.

“If financial support is not increased for low-income families with children, it is likely more children and their parents will need to use foodbanks in the years to come. Annual measurement of food insecurity in a national survey is needed to monitor vulnerability to this serious problem among households with children.”

Emma Revie, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, said:

“As a nation we value justice and compassion, particularly for our children. But this research shows families across Britain are locked in poverty, with income so low they are unable even to afford to put food on their children’s plates. These findings are particularly concerning when we are braced for further real-terms reductions in the very working age benefits that should be protecting these families and children from poverty and hunger in the first place.

“Our network of foodbanks will continue to ensure food and support is given to families facing hunger right now. But we are also calling on Government to unfreeze working age benefits. There should be no higher priority than ensuring all UK families can afford to put food on the table when their children are hungry.”

The Trussell Trust is asking policy-makers to ensure better support for families is in place by:

  • Unfreezing and uprating in line with inflation rates of child benefits, both for the Child Element in Universal Credit and for Child Tax Credits under the legacy benefits system, in addition to suspending the benefit cap for parents of children aged 0-2.
  • Ensuring work pays for parents under Universal Credit. The work allowance for parents should be increased to its pre-April 2016 level to allow families to keep more of their earnings before Universal Credit payments are reduced.* Single parents with pre-school children or more than 2 children should not be subject to job-searching requirements or sanctions.
  • Ensuring all families in need of free school meals are able to access them. The Department for Education has recently decided to place a threshold of £7,400 per household for eligibility to free school meals on Universal Credit. A higher threshold, such as the £14,000 threshold set in Northern Ireland, could help prevent further pressure on low income families.

The SPERI brief can be downloaded at http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/SPERI-Brief-32-Family-hunger-in-times-of-austerity.pdf

Ends

Contact The Trussell Trust Press Office at 020 3137 3699 or press@trusselltrust.org

Notes to Editor

*Returning the work allowance to pre-April 2016 levels for parents would mean it would rise to:

  • £222 from £192 for a couple with children claiming housing costs, ie renting
  • £263 from £192 for a single parent renting

About this brief:

SPERI British Political Economy Brief No. 32, Family Hunger in Times of Austerity: Families Using Foodbanks Across Britain, draws on data from a large scale survey of households using foodbanks in The Trussell Trust network, to understand foodbank use amongst families with children in 2016/17. 598 households overall completed the survey on tablet devices and for the brief’s analysis, the number and characteristics of households living with children less than 16 years of age were quantified. The findings examine the family demographics of people at foodbanks and the particular vulnerability of certain families to foodbank use. It was authored by Rachel Loopstra (King’s College London), Hannah Lambie-Mumford (The University of Sheffield), and Ruth Patrick (University of Liverpool).

The brief is part of a three-part series on families and hunger in the UK. More information about Brief 31, Children’s experience of food and poverty: the rise and implications of charitable breakfast clubs and holiday hunger projects in the UK by Hannah Lambie-Mumford and Lily Sims, and Brief 33, Families and Food in Hard Times: rising food poverty and the importance of children’s experiences, by Rebecca O’Connell, at http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/2018/03/22/child-food-insecurity-in-the-uk-three-new-speri-briefs-published-today/ .

About The Trussell Trust:

  • The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity that runs a network of 428 foodbanks across the UK.
  • It is simply not acceptable that so many people in the UK face hunger, and we won’t sit by whilst increasing numbers of people are expected to hit crisis and need a foodbank’s help. We’re committed to creating long term change, challenging the structural issues that lock people into poverty and seeing an end to the need for foodbanks.
  • Whilst we work towards this, we’re determined to ensure everyone referred to a foodbank in our network receives the best possible support, so we help foodbanks to offer much more than food: volunteers are supported to provide a listening ear and help resolve the underlying cause of crisis either through signposting onto relevant local charities or providing on-site immediate support, such as money advice and budget cookery courses.
  • Read more at trusselltrust.org

About Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute:

  • The Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) is an academic institute based at the University of Sheffield. The institute aims to bring together leading international researchers, policy-makers, journalists and opinion formers to develop new ways of thinking about the economic and political challenges posed for the whole world by the current combination of financial crisis, shifting economic power and environmental threat.

For more information, visit http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/ or follow @SPERIshefuni on Twitter.