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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“Eat out to help out” – but what about helping those going hungry at home?

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Rory Weal, Policy & Public Affairs Manager

Yesterday the Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled his ‘summer statement’. A number of eye-catching policies were announced to support the economy through what even the most optimistic predictions suggest will be the deepest recession in decades.

Interventions to protect jobs and targeted support for the hardest hit sectors featured prominently, as did measures to boost consumer spending in the form of VAT cuts and a 50% voucher discount for eating out in restaurants, cafes and pubs during August.

But this welcome focus on jobs must be matched by a renewed effort to make sure people out of work can afford the essentials.

There was little here for the millions of people already relying on our social security safety net, and the many more who will be forced to turn to it over the coming months.

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On the frontline: a day at a food bank during COVID-19

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A guest blog from our partners Deloitte 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK in March, Hannah Ledwold, a manager in our Risk Analytics practice and Alan Velecky, Senior Manager, Consulting, have been on secondment with the Trussell Trust. The Trussell Trust supports a nationwide network of over 1,200 food banks to provide emergency food to people who can’t afford the essentials, while working towards a future where everyone has enough money.

The Trussell Trust’s mission is to end the need for food banks by supporting people to address the root causes of poverty. Unfortunately, the need for food banks’ services is now greater than ever. They have seen an 81% increase in food parcels provided to people since the coronavirus caused lockdowns and job losses across the UK. Our two secondees have stepped in to help.

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Our nation faces a crucial fork in the road – we must choose the right path 

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Garry Lemon, director of policy and external affairs  

Our nation is at a crossroads.

The government has responded to coronavirus with unprecedented measures to support workers, businesses and self-employed people. But the stark reality many of us now face is laid bare in today’s unemployment figures, with hundreds of thousands of people falling off payrolls since March and the largest decreases in the number of self -employed ever recorded.

With the jobs retentions scheme and the self-employed income support scheme set to wind down over the coming months, there is real concern that this is just the start of a tidal wave which will sweep people into poverty and financial hardship.

What decision will we make? We can either choose to build the biggest and best lifeboats to sail people to financial safety – or risk many more people being swept into destitution if we do not invest enough to keep everyone afloat. 

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Make this £63 million the lifeline it needs to be

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Garry Lemon, Director of Policy:

Last week food banks in the Trussell Trust network provided shocking evidence of the impact of the economic storm whipped up by the Coronavirus pandemic. Over the course of April there was a huge surge in people needing support, with double the number of families needing help compared to same time last year. It was the busiest month ever at food banks.

It is clear from this immediate and ongoing surge in need for charity food parcels that though we all face the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. Despite welcome measures to boost Universal Credit and Housing Benefit, a huge number of people are still unable to stay afloat.

This simply isn’t right, and must be addressed immediately by government. To that end, the Trussell Trust is working with a coalition of anti-poverty charities to call for a Coronavirus Emergency Income Support Scheme to  ensure we all have enough money to weather the storm.

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Food isn’t the answer to people needing food banks

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Emma Revie, chief executive

In ‘normal’ times, Ruth* works every hour under the sun in catering for an events company to provide for her family. But in mid-March, before the coronavirus pandemic had reached its peak in the UK, she found herself at a food bank collecting an emergency food parcel.

She was already just getting by from one payslip to the next – but when all the events company’s bookings were cancelled and she lost her shifts, it was impossible to make ends meet.

It isn’t right that Ruth was forced to use a food bank to get by. It isn’t right that anyone in our country is forced to use a food bank to get by. Each one of us deserves the dignity of having enough money to buy the essentials we need for ourselves and our families.

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