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The long read: Food banks have been busier than ever – but there’s still time for change this winter

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We’re starting a new series where our team deep-dive into what’s happening in food banks. To kick things off, Research Manager Tom Weekes breaks down what we’ve seen in the first six months of the pandemic, and what we’re expecting this winter.  

Yesterday we released figures showing that food banks in the Trussell Trust network have given out a record 2,600 food parcels a day to children since the start of the pandemic. Breaking it down further  a child needed support from a food bank every 34 seconds between April and September 

Clearly the economic consequences of the pandemic have been devastating, leaving many unable to afford the basics without further support. In many ways this has driven change for food banks – with many new people needing support, at the same time as they’ve had to make operational changes like extending opening hours, switching to deliver food and becoming Covid secure.  

However, while some things have changed generally the underlying reasons why people need support have notAs before the crisis, the key issue is a fundamental lack of income leaving people destitute and unable to afford the essentials. Dramatic increases to the number of people applying for welfare support,  shortfalls between peoples living costs and their income, and gaps in or lack of eligibility for support, have all driven levels of need.  

95% of people that needed to use food banks during the pandemic were living in relative poverty after housing costs. 

Food banks came into the crisis recording their hardest ever year  

Over 1,300 centres distribute emergency food parcels to people in need in the Trussell Trust UK wide network. To receive a food parcel, you need to be given a voucher after being referred by an agency like Citizens Advice. This voucher contains information such as the number, and age of the people being supportedWhen these vouchers are fulfilled the data is uploaded by the food banks, allowing the Trussell Trust to evidence the number of people that are being supported by the network.  

This data shows that food banks in our network saw successive years of increasing need coming into the crisis. In the last five years, food bank use increased by 74%. In 2019/20 alone there was a 18% increase on the previous year.  

Reshaping the landscape 

Even from these record levels , the pandemic has reshaped the landscape of destitution and poverty in the United Kingdom. More than 5.7 million people were receiving Universal Credit in October, a 90% increase since March 2020. Our estimate based off work from Heriot-Watt University suggest hundreds of thousands of people will be swept into destitution by the end of this winter. During the pandemic food banks have been on the frontline of the crisis, and we reported a 47 per cent increase in the number of parcels distributed in the 6 months to September 2020, compared to the same period last year. In this period 38 per cent of parcels went to children – despite those aged 0-16 making up just 20 per cent of the UK population.

These figures represent just the tip of the iceberg, and do not include the countless people who were helped by people in their community, by independent food banks, and local authorities.  

Looking to the future 

At the Trussell Trust we expect this to be our busiest ever winter. We cannot accept this. The government must do everything it can to continue to protect people from falling into destitution and providing support to lift those experiencing it out.  

Currently, for many people, work cannot be the solution. The below graph uses a baseline approach to show the change in both redundancies and the number of jobs availableVacancies remain significantly below pre-pandemic levels, while redundancies have continued to increase. 


**Source: LFS: ILO redundancy level (thousands): UK: All: SA: Figures refer to the number of people made redundant in the three months previous to their interview. So, for the data labelled as August 2020 that refers to the period from the beginning of April to the end of September 2020. Vacancies and Jobs in the UK: November 2020: Vacancy data refers to a three-month average. The latest data labelled as August 2020 is an average of August – October 2020 

This makes it more important than ever that we have a functioning safety net that fully supports people 

We need to:  

Suspend benefit deductions until there is a fair system for repaying advance payments and other debts to the DWP.  

Lock in the £20 rise to Universal Credit, and extend it to those people currently excluded 

  • With millions more now receiving UC removing this would drive many into poverty and destitution. Our work with Heriot-Watt estimates that removing the uplift would increase use of food banks in our network by nine per cent next year. 
  • One in three (32%) households that were supported by a food bank in June or July and claiming benefits were not claiming UC, meaning they have not benefited from the uplift 

It’s not right that any of us are forced to food banks. But together , we can build a hunger free future. We’re asking anyone who wants to end the injustice of people needing food banks to join the campaign for a Hunger Free Future.  

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The government has stepped up to provide vital local welfare – time to fix the national system too

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Ellie Thompson, Policy and Public Affairs Officer

In all the hubbub of a very busy news week last week, one exciting announcement that may have slipped under people’s radars was the creation of a new Covid Winter Grant Scheme to help people struggling to afford food and other essentials. The scheme will see £170m given to councils in England to spend on supporting people worst affected by the crisis between the start of December and the end of March 2021. This decision to provide funding for local welfare assistance is testament to the efforts of food banks, campaigners and charities across the country, who have all been calling for this vital support.

Provision of local welfare assistance by local authorities, which can include emergency cash grants as well as longer-term support (such as debt and benefits advice), has long been recognised as a key part of the social security system. In our recent report Local Lifelines we highlighted the crucial role that this support played during the Covid-19 crisis, particularly in areas where the local authority had previously invested in their support scheme and were able to respond quickly and flexibly to support those in financial crisis during the lockdown. This provision of effective local welfare assistance can help prevent a financial emergency from escalating into a more sustained crisis.

The Trussell Trust, alongside key partners such as The Children’s Society, has been calling for a £250m per year investment into local welfare assistance in England. So this announcement of £170m funding for four months shows a significant commitment on the part of the government to ensure that councils have the cash to support people who don’t have enough money for essentials after being hit by an emergency. This is an excellent first step, but this vital local lifeline needs to be there whenever it’s needed, not just this winter. This is why, whilst we welcome this step, we’ll be calling for continued funding for local welfare assistance beyond March 2021.

Not only did the government announce £170m for local welfare support, but following the fantastic campaigning efforts of Marcus Rashford, the Food Foundation and others, there is also £220m funding to provide support to families through the school holidays. This is another clear example of the power that we all have to create change.

This new funding for locally delivered support may mean the difference for many families between staying afloat and slipping into destitution. Crucially, we would like to see this funding spent in line with the examples of best practice we saw in our research and highlighted by others such as the Local Government Association. This includes providing tailored and wrap-around support which connects people to other relevant services in their community, addressing underlying needs and enabling them to build their own resilience against future crises.

But right now, we know that food banks are busier than ever, with food banks forecast to give out six emergency food parcels a minute this winter. Whilst local lifelines are crucial, we also need to fix the holes in the national safety net to support people who have been hardest hit by this pandemic:

  • The £20 uplift to Universal Credit has been a lifeline pulling people from destitution; the government should not take this away when it is needed most. The uplift must be extended beyond next spring and extended to those on other welfare payments.
  • People are also struggling right now with huge levels of debt; three quarters of people arriving at food banks on Universal Credit are repaying advances to cover the five-week wait. All benefit deductions should be temporarily suspended to help those on the lowest incomes.

The Covid-19 crisis has heralded an upsurge in calls for justice for people hardest hit by this crisis. It’s great that the government have listened to our calls to provide support locally. But we must also push for long-term solutions and ensure our national social security system is strong enough to act as the lifeline so many of us need it to be.  Only then can we ensure when we are out of this crisis, we can create a Hunger Free Future where everyone has enough money to afford the essentials.

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The government has stepped up to provide vital local welfare – now’s the time to fix the holes in the national safety net too

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Ellie Thompson, Policy and Public Affairs Officer

In all the hubbub of a very busy news week last week, one exciting announcement that may have slipped under people’s radars was the creation of a new Covid Winter Grant Scheme to help people struggling to afford food and other essentials. The scheme will see £170m given to councils in England to spend on supporting people worst affected by the crisis between the start of December and the end of March 2021. This decision to provide funding for local welfare assistance is testament to the efforts of food banks, campaigners and charities across the country, who have all been calling for this vital support.

Provision of local welfare assistance by local authorities, which can include emergency cash grants as well as longer-term support (such as debt and benefits advice), has long been recognised as a key part of the social security system. In our recent report Local Lifelines we highlighted the crucial role that this support played during the Covid-19 crisis, particularly in areas where the local authority had previously invested in their support scheme and were able to respond quickly and flexibly to support those in financial crisis during the lockdown. This provision of effective local welfare assistance can help prevent a financial emergency from escalating into a more sustained crisis.

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The PM says no child will go hungry – our new report shows extending local welfare would be a good place to start

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Rory Weal, policy & public affairs manager:

The campaign led by Marcus Rashford to extend free school meals in England to cover the half term holidays, may have been rejected by the government – but it has not gone away. In fact, it has inspired a huge upsurge in generosity and demands for justice across the length and breadth of the country.

This recognition could not be more needed. At the Trussell Trust we support a network of 1,200 food banks centres across the UK, and we have long been aware of both the strength of the communities of this country and the dire economic circumstances too many families find themselves in.

Since the pandemic hit, the situation has got worse.  Food banks in our network expect to be giving out six emergency food parcels a minute this winter. The contribution of volunteers and supporters is tireless, but the reality is no one should be forced to turn to charity to put food on the table.

That is why the public support for free school meals has been phenomenal and extending provision to cover holidays is so needed. But as Marcus Rashford has said free school meals can only ever be a ‘sticking plaster’, when the underlying issue is people not having enough money for essentials. The government has recognised this.

On Monday afternoon Boris Johnson told us all,

“We’re going to make sure that we have no children, no kids, no pupils in our country who go hungry this winter, certainly not as a result of any government inattention.” 

And throughout the week, in dismissing calls for supporting children on free school meals during half term, despite doing so over the summer, government ministers have instead argued for other ways to get resources to people who need them most, such as through funding for local authorities and Universal Credit. They have pointed to the temporary £20 weekly rise in Universal Credit payments and a £63 million emergency grant given to councils.

What has been mentioned less often is that both these investments are hanging in the balance.

The government has not confirmed it will keep that £20 increase in Universal Credit next spring, and this rise still doesn’t cover people who haven’t moved over from our old benefits system. The £63 million investment in local welfare was announced in the summer, but the government was clear that it expected most of this money to have been spent by the end of October. This was clocked by Rashford on Wednesday who tweeted his surprise that this money had in fact largely been spent.

Rashford is right to highlight this. Today the Trussell Trust has published new research which shows that while this £63 million has provided an important lifeline to those hardest hit by the crisis, there are real concerns among local authorities that they will not be able to continue to provide support unless further investment is made.

It’s no good for the government to justify a lack of action by referring to alternatives which are ending imminently – families are facing hunger every day. If the government believes there are better alternatives to free school meals, we need to see them now.

That means making the £20 uplift to Universal Credit permanent, extending it to people who are currently excluded and providing an immediate extension to the £63 million in local welfare for the duration of the present crisis.

The Marcus Rashford campaign has heralded an unprecedented upsurge in compassion and calls for justice for people hardest hit by this crisis. We must harness this power and this compassion, and push for long-term solutions. That is the only way we are going to end the need for food banks in the UK, and ensure every child and family gets what they need not just to survive but to thrive.

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What do we spend donations on?

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The Trussell Trust is a charity which supports a network of 1,200 food bank centres across the UK to provide emergency support to people as we work together towards a future where everyone has enough food.  

We don’t spend donated money on food to give to people – the vast majority of food provided by food banks in our network is donated generously by members of the public.  

We’re working to end the need for food banks and while it’s not a simple task, it can be done. If we’re to reach a future where everyone can afford essentials, we need to do three things:  

  1. Support food banks to provide the best possible support to people right now  
  2. Tackle the structural issues that lead to people needing food banks in long-term
  3. Win hearts and minds over to inspire action to create a just society.  

So what does that actually mean in terms of work?  

Supporting food banks to provide the best possible support to people 

There are more than 1,200 food bank centres in our network across the UK, and we support them so they can give the best possible help to people. We work alongside food banks in our network to ensure projects are run to a high standard and provide training, guidance and resources with issues projects face. This includes: 

  • One to one support on the ground through an Area Manager 
  • Access and support for a range of unique cloud-based systems that refer people to food banks and measure how many people are needing food banks 
  • A grants programme which can be used to fund a variety of different things that food banks might struggle to fund otherwise (you can read more about the difference these grants make here in this blog from Colchester Foodbank) 
  • Access to a central support team 
  • Support with sourcing and distributing food stock 
  • A share in nationally negotiated fundraising partnerships with corporates 
  • Best practice sharing across food banks 
  • Support in responding to crises or unexpected situations as they arise  

Tackling the structural issues that lead people to need food banks 

We’re working to end the need for food banks in the future through a range of research, advocacy and campaigning work. We work with academics and researchers to understand who needs food banks and why, so we can then work with policy makers to push for changes that would better protect people from needing a food bank 

Winning hearts and minds over to inspire action to create a just society 

If we want a society that not only thinks it’s wrong people need food banks, but is ready and willing to take action to create a future where food banks aren’t needed, we need to take people on a journey to help them understand what drives people to need food banks and how we can change things. That’s why we’re also working to build a movement of people who care, understand and want to keep the conversation about food bank use in the UK on the agenda so there’s public pressure to address these crucial issues.   

So what money goes where? 

We take our responsibility for any money donated to us very seriously. We spend some money on salaries because to do all of this work we need to be able to pay a team for their expertiseWe’re always carefully weighing decisions about expenditure to ensure what we spend money on is appropriate, while ensuring we have a team that are paid for their skills and experience 

Our financial information is all available online and our most recent annual report is for the year to March 2019. In it you can see 78% of our expenditure went to funding these two areas of work to support the food bank network and push for long-lasting change. 13% was used to run charity shops and other social enterprise projects which you can read more about here, and 10% went towards fundraising costs. 

We don’t think it’s right that anyone needs to use a food bank in the UK. And we know this can change. That’s why we spend donor money on supporting food banks to provide the best possible support to people right now, tackling the structural issues that lead to people needing food banks in long-term, and winning hearts and minds over to ensuring we never let this happen in our country again.  

If you’d like to be part of creating that change, you can find out more here 

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We need Government action to avoid record need for food banks this winter

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By Rory Weal, Policy & Public Affairs Manager

We can avoid the prospect of record need for food banks this winter – but only if the Government acts now.

Last week the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, unveiled his ‘Winter Economy Plan’, designed to prepared the economy for the coming economic storm. This mini budget announced a range of measures, including a replacement for the furlough scheme – a new ‘jobs support scheme’ to subsidise the wages of people in work. Clearly, this is needed and welcome. But it begs the question – what about the millions of people who have already lost work or will do so over the coming months?

Food banks in the Trussell Trust network are seeing first-hand the impact the crisis is having on people in this position. Unfortunately, without further action it is set to get worse before it gets better. Last month we published projections which forecast there will be a 61% rise in need for food banks over the winter compared to the same period last year. Based on an initial assessment by Heriot-Watt University, the latest steps announced by the Chancellor are not enough to alter this forecast. This leaves food banks in the Trussell Trust network faced with the huge task of giving out six food parcels every minute over the winter.

This isn’t right. No one should be need to use a food bank. Many of these people are likely to be using a food bank for the first time, and they are also more likely to be facing additional challenges. Our recent survey findings show almost three quarters of those who used a Trussell Trust food bank during the summer reported they or someone they lived with having a mental health problem, up from half before the pandemic. We are all living with the uncertainty of what the future holds, but for those needing to use food banks that burden weighs particularly heavy.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. There is still time for the Government to make the changes necessary to stop people being swept into poverty. We have recently provided a submission to the Treasury on the steps the Government should take to avert hardship now and in the coming months, which you can read in full here. As we face the prospect of a second wave of Covid-19, we need to draw on the determination we saw back in March and April to provide people with the lifelines they need to weather this economic storm. This means ensuring everyone has the money they need for the essentials, so that no one needs to use a food bank.

Our proposals are built on measures already taken by the Government – measures which can be implemented quickly and will make a real difference. Our three proposals are:

  • Protect people’s incomes by locking in the £20 uplift to Universal Credit and extending to legacy benefits. Our recent research shows removing the £20 uplift next spring would lead to a 10% rise in need for food banks. The uplift must be locked in as soon as possible, and extended to legacy benefits such as Employment Support Allowance.
  • Help people hold on to more of their benefits by suspending benefit debt deductions. This was done swiftly for some deductions back in April and needs to be repeated now. This time, Advance Payments must be included in the suspension, as our survey data shows three quarters of people arriving at food banks on Universal Credit are repaying advances to cover the five-week wait.
  • Make local safety nets as strong as possible by investing £250 million in local welfare assistance in England. Local welfare administered by councils can provide a lifeline for those who fall through the gaps in national provision. The Government invested £63 million in this provision in the summer, but the funding is set to end later this month. As we enter a phase of local lockdowns, this flexible provision to provide cash grants and in-kind benefits is needed now more than ever.

We know these measures can be introduced swiftly, as they have been done before. We can still avoid a huge rise in need for food banks this winter – but only if we see fast action from the Government to provide the lifelines we all need.

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Innovation and invention for a different future

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Dave Massey, Head of Strategic Intelligence

The problem of poverty is growing here in the UK, and as the Covid-19 pandemic continues more and more people are struggling to afford the essentials. As our statistics show, the number of emergency food parcels distributed by food banks in the Trussell Trust network rose almost 20% last year.

And as the impact of the pandemic began to be felt across the UK in April, need was a shocking 89% higher than the same period in 2019. Our latest research forecasts that this winter food banks in our network will give out six emergency food parcels every minute – a staggering 61% increase on last year.

This isn’t right. It is a huge concern for us and for food banks up and down the country, and should be a huge concern to everyone in the UK.

Food banks work tirelessly to support people in crisis, not only by providing them with emergency food supplies, but also by signposting them to other organisations who can help them work through other issues (for example, by offering debt management support). We will continue to support food banks to do this vital work in the short term, but ultimately this work shouldn’t be needed at all. No one should be forced to use a food bank because they can’t afford the essentials.

That’s why we’re also working to bring about a future in the UK where food banks are no longer needed. This is an ambitious goal, particularly as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect us all, but we know that change is possible.

Together, we are powerful and we can drive real change. We are working in partnership with many organisations to create the future we wish to see. Today, we’re excited to partner with UCL Engineering at a hackathon focused on food poverty run by University College London. This was supported by the Industry Exchange Network for Good, a working group of the National Framework of IXNs to bring industry and academia together and address the world’s most pressing challenges, offering a rapid route to innovation.

Students will complete a series of tasks and be invited to put forward solutions to improve food bank operations here and now, consider how technology could unblock the unintended barriers that our ‘digital first’ society places on many people, understand what is happening now and predict what will happen in the future around food bank use, and engage the public in new and innovative ways to help everyone understand the problem of poverty.

To create a UK without the need for food banks will require a combination of creativity, imagination, complete understanding of the whole problem, and technical expertise – as well as innovation and invention. We are excited to see what the students come up with!

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Asda’s support helps get new volunteers into food banks

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Asda have been helping get new volunteers into food banks during the coronavirus pandemic by supporting the Trussell Trust with a digital volunteer system that connects volunteers to nearby food banks that need their support.

Volunteers are the bedrock of all the things food banks do – without volunteers, food banks wouldn’t be able to collect donations, ensure people who need support can get help, or campaign for long-term change to prevent people needing food banks in the future.

But when coronavirus struck, many food bank volunteers who were over 70 or had a health condition, needed to stay at home in line with government guidance. At exactly the same time, food banks were busier than ever before – with more and more people needing emergency support as the impact of the crisis hit how much money people had for essentials.

Food banks were also making big changes to the way they worked to ensure people could get support safely – for some this meant doing deliveries, and for others it meant making sure social distancing could be followed in their centres. Facing these challenges, food banks needed their volunteer teams.

Asda’s support meant the Trussell Trust could launch a digital volunteer system that connects people who want to volunteer with nearby food banks needing their support.

At Brent Foodbank, this meant not only could they link up with nearby people eager to give their time – but they could also organise who was volunteering and when really quickly and easily through the system, saving valuable hours during a period when the food bank was busier than ever before.

Brent Foodbank Project Manager Claudia Wallace explains the difference it makes:

“It’s been really exciting getting to see the volunteer system up and running.  It’s easy to log in and move around the site.  It’s been great seeing our rota come together and we’re looking forward to getting our recruitment into the system as well. This will be a real time saver!”

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Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation

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The Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation has been supporting the Trussell Trust since 2017 and we’re hugely grateful for their long-term support. The foundation has generously been donating funds to support Coventry Foodbank, one of the largest food banks in the UK, for the past four years as well as supporting with nationwide volunteering and contributing to operating costs, and they’re supporting us once again with an additional donation of approximately £40,000 as we face the new challenges and increased level of need created by the coronavirus pandemic.

More and more people are being forced to use a food bank and this simply isn’t right but we know that with the support of partners like Sodexo, together we can create a stronger, more compassionate, and more just society where everyone can afford the essentials.

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Asda and Burngreave Foodbank’s volunteer heroes help people get food bank help safely during COVID-19

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Asda have been helping people who need food banks during the coronavirus pandemic by supporting the Trussell Trust to develop a digital system that makes sure anyone who needs a food bank, but is unable to leave their home, can still access vital support.

Every food bank in the Trussell Trust network works with a range of local organizations, like a housing association or local Citizens Advice, that refer people for emergency support. These organisations can assess whether someone is in need of a food bank and before the pandemic, they could provide people in-person with a paper voucher for the food bank.

But when coronavirus hit, some people needing support couldn’t leave their homes, and some local organisations which normally give paper vouchers couldn’t physically open safely.

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