The State of Hunger  – a foundation for a plan to end the need for food banks

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By Tom Weekes, Research Manager

Yesterday the Trussell Trust released the second State of Hunger report, a comprehensive study of the scale and drivers of hunger in the UK. The report was launched at the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Ending the Need for Food Banks as part of a wide-ranging discussion of food bank use and destitution, including how to tackle the key drivers of both. The insight provided by the report provides the first step in developing a plan to ensure no one has to be forced to use a food bank.

The cross-party group heard from panellists including Crossbench Peer and former government advisor on social policy Dame Louise Casey, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Helen Barnard, the Trussell Trust’s Emma Revie, and Conservative Peer and Chief Executive of the Legatum Institute Baroness Stroud.

While reflecting on the last year, the discussion broadly welcomed the efforts that the UK Government had made to prevent more people falling into destitution, including the furlough scheme and the £20 uplift to Universal Credit. At the same time, panellists across the board recognised that this was not enough to mitigate fully the severe impact of the pandemic on levels of destitution and poverty across the UK.

The panel challenged the UK government to do more. As Dame Louise Casey had earlier written, “The need for food banks is such a sign of failure and it does not have to be this way.” They called on the Government to build a plan to end the need for food banks and ensure that the UK Government’s focus on levelling up includes jobs, incomes, and decent living standards for people.

This year’s report provides a depth of information to form the basis of a plan to end the need for food banks. It confirms the previous findings and expands our understanding of what is driving hunger across the UK.

It highlights three key themes:

  1. Levels of need are driven by a fundamental lack of income.

The vast majority (95%) of people referred to food banks in early 2020 were destitute, meaning that their income was so low that they were unable to afford the essentials in life that we all need. These include essentials such as food, basic toiletries, and clothing. On average the level of income after housing costs for people at food banks was just £248 a month.

In early 2020 95% of people referred to food banks were destitute. The average equivalised monthly income for people referred to food banks. This was just 13% of the UK average.
  1. The design of the social security system is the key driver of low income.

Low income was mainly driven by issues with the social security system, most commonly because of the design of the system itself. During the pandemic we have seen this play out:

of people referred to food banks in mid-2020 owed money to the DWP, up from 38% before the pandemic. of people referred to food banks in mid-2020 in receipt of Universal Credit were repaying an Advance Payment.
  1. Certain groups face a disproportionate risk of needing support than others.

The report highlights that some groups are significantly overrepresented when looking at people that need support from food banks This includes disabled people, with six in ten (62%) of working-age people referred to a food bank in early 2020 reporting having a disability – that’s more than three times the rate in the UK working age population. Single parents, people living alone, and homeless people are also overrepresented.

During the pandemic, these groups largely stayed the same with some key differences. During the pandemic people referred to food banks were more likely to:

11% vs. 2% in early 2020 72% vs. 51% in early 2020 62% vs. 54% in early 2020 24% of households vs. 19% in early 2020

We cannot continue as we are. We believe that no one should face the indignity of needing emergency food. If we are serious about levelling up and creating a new, better future for the UK, we need dedicated and urgent action.

This means all levels of government should commit to ending the need for food banks. And we need a clear strategy to do so.

For the UK Government, we think there are three key components:

  • First, our social security system must provide everyone with enough income to afford the essentials.
  • Second, local lifelines must be available to get people the right support at the right time.
  • Third, if any strategy tackling hunger and destitution in the UK is to have any weight, it must involve the frontline, including organisations like food banks, and – crucially – people with lived experience.

The evidence from this report can form the basis of a plan to end the need for food banks. To support this we will, alongside speaking to those in power and working with our partners, be writing a regular blog series to unpick these findings in detail, looking at the drivers of need for food banks and the groups most at risk of needing support.

You can help us as we push for a plan to end the need for food banks by signing up to be part of the conversation for a hunger free future at: