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The State of Hunger: the debt crisis facing households at food banks

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This is the third blog in our series looking at the State of Hunger (2021), diving into key themes arising from the landmark study, and looking at their impact in focus. 

As our previous blogs have shown (here and here), people need to turn to food banks when they are forced to live on extremely low incomes. One of the many consequences of this, is the very high level of debt among people needing to turn to food banks. This creates a vicious circle for those individuals and families living on very low incomes who are forced to take on debt to pay for the essentials, with that debt in turn keeping them locked them in poverty.  

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The State of Hunger: We must do more to support people who experience challenging life events, and people without support networks.

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Our previous blog looking at our State of Hunger research identified the design of the social security system as the main reason why people need support from food banks. This research also highlighted background factors that can increase the risk of people needing support. These include people who experience challenging life events (e.g. divorce, ill health, or eviction) or lack local support networks to keep them afloat during a crisis.

The experiences of some people involved in the State of Hunger research are included in this blog. Names have been changed to protect their anonymity.

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The State of Hunger: Now is the time to make sure our social security system is strong enough for all of us when we need a lifeline

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By Tom Weekes, Research Manager

The Trussell Trust is calling for government at all levels to develop a plan for ending the need for food banks. Our State of Hunger research shows that the clearest place to start is ensuring that people have enough income to support themselves. Significant changes to our social security system are needed to ensure we all have a strong enough lifeline when we face hard times.

This blog explores the relationship between social security and need for food banks. The State of Hunger shows consistent evidence that the design of the social security system, and particularly the level of support that people receive is a key reason for why people need support from food banks. From applying to receiving support, the design of the system puts people at risk of hardship.

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What’s happening at food banks as restrictions lift?

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By Lynda Battarbee, Director of Operations

Since the start of the pandemic, food banks have been incredibly busy: dramatically changing the way support is given so it’s safe and secure for all involved – including staff, volunteers, and people using the food bank; providing 2.5 million emergency parcels to people; supporting with vital research throughout the pandemic; and coming together to call for long-term change to address the issues driving food bank use.

Food banks have provided phenomenal support in their local communities during the pandemic and local people have rallied around them, providing essential food, financial donations, and volunteer support to ensure food banks could continue offering vital services to people in crisis. That support has been invaluable, and we should be encouraged by the way people have pulled together.

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The inspiring stories of food bank volunteers

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We are always blown away by the incredible commitment of food bank volunteers. Faced with a year of change, face masks, and social distancing, the 28,000+ volunteers across the network have shown amazing resilience over the past year, adjusting to new ways of operating, moving to remote support, and processing unprecedented levels of donations and demand. Every day we are both inspired and humbled by the difference volunteers make, giving their time and expertise for free to help make us the best we can be.

As part of Volunteers’ Week, we’ve asked volunteers to share their stories and let us know what being a food bank volunteer means to them. Here’s what they told us:

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Scottish Tech Army: celebrating volunteer partnerships

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As a charity, we hugely value the time, skills, and experience provided by the network’s 28,000 food bank volunteers. As part of our commitment to them, we launched a project in March 2020 to provide all of the food banks in the Trussell Trust network with access to Assemble, a volunteer management system. Assemble is a comprehensive volunteering system focused on empowering and supporting volunteers, streamlining processes, and celebrating the impact and contribution made by both individuals and teams.

We’re delighted to now have over 100 food banks up and running on Assemble, something we couldn’t have done without the support of the Scottish Tech Army.

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Amazing fundraising in Aylesbury

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By Susan, Aylesbury

When the pandemic hit last year, I realised so many people were going through hardship and couldn’t afford the basics, such as food. So, I started thinking how I could help and do my bit for the community.

People contribute and support food banks in any way they can: some hold coffee mornings to raise money while others might make cakes. I love gardening and I have a big garden with lots of plants, so I thought why not share them with other people to support a good cause? In April 2020 I set up a stall outside my house and started selling my plants. The idea turned out to be a success and it was really appreciated by passers-by: it raised £700 for Aylesbury Foodbank.

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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.

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A nationwide writing challenge for kids!

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In the UK right now, more people than ever are facing extreme poverty, unable to afford the basics or put food on the table. Last year, food banks in our network gave out more than 2.5 million emergency food parcels to people in crisis – and almost a million of these were provided for children.

This simply isn’t right, but we know that together we can make change happen. More than 100,000 people have already signed up for our Hunger Free Future campaign, standing alongside us and people forced to use food banks to call for change. Will you join us?

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To reach a UK without the need for food banks, we must address structural racism

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Marcia Bluck, director of diversity and inclusion 

I want to start with a disclaimer – I’m not a victim. I create my own seat at the table. But we need to acknowledge why that can be harder for some to do than others 

Last month, the Commission on Race & Ethnic Disparities’ report was published, arguing that the term ‘institutional racism’ is overused, and that while impediments and disparities do exist for people from ethnic minority backgrounds, ‘very few of them are directly to do with racism’.  

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