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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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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.

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As the cold weather bites, how do we ensure everyone has enough money for fuel?

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“I am constantly writing letters and making phone calls to see what help or advice I can get. I am at breaking point, as each day there is something else to contend with. I feel helpless, mentally exhausted and so low. I really don’t know what I am going to do. I cannot get by month to month. It’s hard enough doing it week to week on a low income. I can’t afford to use my heating, even though it is so cold and my son suffers with his chest and lungs. No doubt he will end up in hospital during this cold period.”

This Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, we want to want to raise awareness not only of fuel poverty, but also the responses, both amongst local communities and through policy, that can stem the tide.

Foodbanks in The Trussell Trust’s network don’t currently measure how many people come through their doors facing fuel poverty. The University of Oxford research however, found that half of people at foodbanks can’t afford to heat their homes and households referred to foodbanks had, on average, £319 of income in the month preceding their referral and 1/5 of people still needing to pay housing costs over and above this. Even with housing benefit added in, this falls well below low income thresholds, and far below median income. Half of people at foodbanks were disabled, and 75% had a health condition, all making it more difficult to keep up with energy costs.

We asked foodbanks in our network how they were tackling this issue, and the results were both inspiring and heart-breaking. Inspiring, because it shows the sheer strength in communities coming together to help protect local people. Heart-breaking, because they highlight how people are restrained by the lack of help available, locked into a cycle of low incomes and high bills.

At least a quarter of Trussell Trust foodbanks were offering some help to make sure people weren’t left scrimping to keep the lights on, or having to sit in cold homes: from providing fuel vouchers, warm clothes and hot water bottles, to redistributing donated Winter Fuel Allowance funds, supporting communications with energy suppliers, providing signposting and advice, and even creating oil purchasing cooperatives.

We know there is good help out there – each energy provider has their own scheme to help people who are vulnerable or fuel-poor, and local authorities have schemes to help people struggling with energy costs. The Fuel Bank, our partnership with npower, has provided over 120,000 people on pre-payment meters help with their fuel costs, and has made a measurable difference in the lives of people who hit crisis. Yet, only 60% of foodbanks identified some sort of support being provided by their local authority, and much of this was not easy to access, nor long-term. And all the while, people are still referred to foodbanks up and down the country having not eaten a hot meal, or taken a hot shower in weeks.

We need to fix this, now.

This week, The Trussell Trust has submitted its response to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s consultation on fuel poverty, in support of an amendment to legislation which would allow data companies to receive information about people’s benefit status, in order to place them on a safeguard tariff automatically. We know that people often don’t access the help available because it isn’t targeted to them, or they are simply hiding in plain sight – skipping meals or sitting in the dark. This would go a long way to solve that.

This Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, we’re calling for:

  • ‘Data matching’ between public authorities and energy companies, as proposed in the Government’s latest BEI consultation on fuel poverty measures
  • Maintaining safeguard tariffs or ‘price caps’ per unit of energy
  • Simplifying access to Warm Home Discounts to help vulnerable groups who may be disengaged
  • A standardised or comparable measure of fuel poverty across the UK
  • More targeted financial support for people facing fuel poverty to avoid ‘self-disconnection’
  • Increased statutory provision of energy efficiency measures to fuel poor households
  • Increased coordination, and improved accessibility, of energy and debt advice from local authorities and Jobcentres for vulnerable or hard to reach groups
  • A review of the impact of the Fuel Poverty and Health Booster Fund

You can read our Parliamentary briefing here.

Abby Jitendra, Senior Policy & Press Officer 

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Putting food on the table: the human right to eat in the fifth richest country in the world

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As a society, we believe in justice and compassion. That, as we grow up, we should have the same chance to get on and succeed in life – whether we’re from the Cheshire countryside, or the potteries of Stoke-on-Trent.

For most of us, this starts with having enough to eat, proper clothing, and a safe place to call home. But what happens when we can’t put enough food on the table? Who can – and should – step in to help?

 

Food poverty exists in Britain.

Here in Britain, one in five children suffer from what UNICEF call ‘food insecurity.’ This means that their families lack secure access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. More than eight million British adults struggle to get enough to eat, and almost five million of us have gone whole days without eating.

These are quite shocking figures. But the most surprising thing about them is the indifference that they have inspired in our government’s welfare policy. Despite our uncertain access to the most basic resources we need to survive, the government today are taking support away, rather than giving more out. Last year it was confirmed that working age benefits would stay frozen until 2020. It is estimated that this will reduce the overall welfare budget by about £13bn in real terms, just at the time when our country needs it the most.

 

We have a human right to food.

But in the last few years, more and more members of the legal community have started to question the legality of these cuts. While a democratically elected government can and should enact the laws that they please, once these policies start to impact people’s ability to access adequate and healthy food for themselves and their families, this becomes an issue of rights more than policy.

Under international law, the government have an obligation to put in place the infrastructure to provide food for those who cannot provide it for themselves and if the policies of this current government are failing to do this, then they are affecting our ability to enjoy our human right to food.

 

What is the human right to food?

In 1976, Britain ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).  This means that our Government legally recognises “the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger” (Article 11).

This also means that our Government must act to secure the human right that:

“Whenever individuals or groups are unable, for reasons beyond their control, to enjoy the right to food by the means at their disposal, States have the obligation to fulfil (provide) it, for example by providing food assistance or ensuring social safety nets for the most deprived.”

Jonathan Butterworth, an advisor to the British Institute of Human Rights, explains this commitment in incredibly plain terms. He says that “the Government is legally required by the ICESCR to secure the human right to adequate food for everyone in the UK”.

But the government are failing to do this. Cuts in welfare allowances and the lengthy waiting times associated with Universal Credit have all but stripped our country of its ‘social safety net’. While the government would have you believe that this is an issue of policy and economics, it is also an issue of the law. The government have made these obligations, and they are legally bound to fulfil them.

 

The recession

The government’s justification, though, is the trade deficit. They say that the country’s finances are so dire that there are no other options but to cut back on welfare and that the rise in food insecurity is an unfortunate side-effect of our budget deficit. But even when our country needs to tighten its belt, our human right to food must still legally be met. As Professor Geraldine van Bueren says

“Where a State faces severe resource constraints caused by a process of economic adjustment or recession, measures should be undertaken to ensure that the right to adequate food is especially fulfilled for vulnerable population groups and individuals.”

In Britain today though, statistics show that it is organisations like The Trussell Trust that have stepped in to help these vulnerable individuals. But while food banks are doing a fantastic job, they should not be the ones plugging the holes left by the welfare state. To solve hunger, the government are required to recognise and adhere to their responsibilities under international law.

 

The Government needs to act.

Our human right to food means that the Government needs to act. Right now, there are millions of people in this country who do not enjoy their human right to food, as described by the UN and ratified by the UK.

This is more than an issue of policy. It’s an issue of human rights and human decency. As a society, we have a moral responsibility to make sure that everyone has enough to eat. And as a signatory to ICESCR, our Government has a legal one.

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Why working with Asda & FareShare will help bring us closer to ending the need for foodbanks

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It’s 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 on this, we’re also committed to ensuring everyone referred to a foodbank in our network receives the best possible support.

That’s why we’re pleased to announce a new partnership between Asda, FareShare and The Trussell Trust in a three-year programme that will help to tackle hunger in the UK in a number of ways.

Firstly, it will provide 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 referred, but even wider support to move out of crisis.

Crucially, the funding will also help us to enhance our More Than Food projects, offering more support to people at the point of crisis and helping rebuild community and dignity for people locked into hunger and poverty. Projects like our six week budget cookery course and holiday clubs provide more holistic support, and more funding for training volunteers will mean people can get targeted advice when they need it most.

We’re excited that the partnership will support the development of a fresh food delivery structure with food redistribution charity FareShare, giving more foodbanks in our network the opportunity to offer fresh food alongside the standard emergency food parcel to people referred.

Whilst all of this additional support will make a real difference to people at foodbanks in the immediate future, we will continue to unwaveringly speak truth to power, gathering robust evidence and raising awareness of the lived experience of people in poverty, so we can tackle the root causes of hunger in the long term. Over the last two years, our landmark research into hunger and poverty has already started to shed a light on why so many people are unable to afford food, and we’re pleased that this funding will support our research into the drivers of food insecurity and foodbank use over the next three years.

At the moment too many people across our society are facing hunger and that’s just not right. But it doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of Britain’s future. There are thousands of foodbank volunteers on the ground across the country, determined to ensure no one in their community goes hungry, and we’re privileged to be able to work alongside them to offer the best possible support to people whilst at the same time working towards a future where everyone is able to afford food. This funding will enable local communities to do this even more effectively.

We’re here to end hunger in the UK.

 

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Why does having a disability or health issue make you more likely to face hunger?

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“I was sanctioned because I missed an appointment at the Job Centre.  I was severely depressed, and sometimes when I am like that I can’t leave the flat.  My electric has almost run out so I can’t heat water and I am having a light on as little as possible. I know the cause of my depression and anxiety but I can’t get any free counselling or help.”

Mick’s* account of his struggle to keep his benefits in payment is typical of many of those we hear at Exeter Foodbank.  Disclosing personal details to strangers, filling out complex paperwork or navigating call centre phone systems can be daunting for anyone.  For those, like Mick, who suffer from chronic mental health conditions, or have limited literacy and digital skills, it can be a Herculean step too far.  Many arrive at our foodbank’s doors in desperate circumstances, with nowhere else to turn.

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We can’t end hunger without knowing its scale

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Until you understand the true magnitude of a problem, you cannot effectively solve it. That’s why this week, as part of End Hunger UK, a coalition of organisations trying to eliminate hunger, we released figures on the scale of hidden hunger in this country. The findings are shocking. Over 1 in 10 adults are skipping meals because of lack of money. When you look at parents with children aged 18 and under, that rises to 1 in 4.

To anyone who has spent any time in a foodbank, however, these findings will not be a surprise. What is happening up and down the country is mirrored in our network of over 400 foodbanks.

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Dave Magill, Area Manager for Northern Ireland reflects on the ‘reality of foodbanks’

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I’ve now worked for Trussell Trust for 7 months. I had another of what I think of as my ‘reality of foodbank’ moments today.

We were in a meeting with someone who wanted information about how a Trussell Trust foodbank works. As we explained the model that we use, causes of food poverty and talked through some statistics of foodbank use in Northern Ireland and the wider UK network, I was again experiencing the contrast of feeling that comes with this job.

Working with foodbanks is simultaneously saddening, infuriating, uplifting and inspiring. Working with people of such passion and commitment to serving and helping those in crisis in their community is humbling and challenging. Engaging with the causes and reality of food poverty in 21st century Northern Ireland is shocking and crushing.

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