Why local policy matters when it comes to ending the need for food banks.
Far too often we find that people referred to food banks have not received any other forms of support.
Local statutory services should be the first port of call for people when they face a financial crisis.
Whether it is supporting people to access the benefits they are entitled to, providing direct cash payments for people facing an immediate financial shortfall, or directing people to wider support services, local government has a critical role to play in making sure everyone can afford the essentials, so that no one finds that their only option is to turn to a food bank.
The Trussell Trust is proud to have partnered with Leeds City Council and food banks in our network across the city to commission an evaluation into a cash grant pilot scheme, which provided cash to people in financial hardship in Leeds rather than emergency food aid. Read more
An Evaluation of the Leeds Cash First Pilot
Publications on Local Policy
Why does local policy matter to ending the need for food banks?
We know that the need for food banks is driven by the fact that too many people do not have enough money to afford the essentials we all need. Primarily this is driven by the fact that the social security system does not give people a sufficient income.
And we know that the situation is becoming more urgent as the need for food banks in our network has increased by 81% over the past five years.
Being on a low income also means people are more exposed to unexpectedly large costs or difficult life events, such as a boiler breaking, having to spend more on travel due to regular hospital appointments, or increases in energy bills.
Living on an extremely low income is also frequently compounded by other hardships, including insecure work, high levels and multiple kinds of debt, inadequate housing, and poor mental and physical health.
When people have a bill they simply cannot afford they may already have exhausted all other forms of help. Sadly, as we hear all too often from food banks in our network, the first time people receive any form of help is when they walk through their doors.
This shouldn’t be the case. Food banks across the Trussell Trust network do all they can to support people facing financial hardship, but emergency food aid is not the most dignified, nor sustainable, way to support people through financial hardship.
Having access to well-run, effective, accessible, and dignified local support can help people out of financial hardship and prevent them from needing to turn to a food bank. Local policy can be the difference between a short shock turning into longer term hardship.
So, while food banks in our network will continue to support people facing financial hardship, we believe local government can play a vital role in supporting people to afford the essentials and prevent hardship from emerging so that no one finds themselves needing to turn to a food bank as a first port of call.
What are cash first approaches?
Cash first approaches mean providing people with money, rather than emergency food or in-kind support, making them an effective and dignified form of support to people facing hardship locally.
We believe that the use of cash transfers locally through councils can help prevent people needing to turn to a food bank for support. This is because cash provides people with the flexibility to spend it on their immediate needs, whether that is purchasing the essentials (for example food), getting an MOT for their car, buying school shoes for their child, or paying down debt to get on a more secure financial footing.
However, while there are some examples of cash first approaches in local councils across England, it is by no means a widespread provision. We’ve seen a huge investment in direct local support over the past two years, most recently through the Household Support Fund, yet this has not been accompanied by a large increase in cash transfers locally to people facing hardship.
The Household Support Fund also provided guidance to local authorities which mentions the use of food banks nine times and the use of vouchers 20 times, whilst the use of cash only has four mentions – which were all about discouraging the use of unrestricted cash grants. This has led to a situation where some local councils have given funding directly to food banks, or other emergency food aid providers, ahead of putting the cash directly in people’s pockets.
Cash transfers are a powerful, and dignified intervention when people face a financial hardship locally but also do not exist in a vacuum and will only remain a sticking plaster whilst the UK social security system does not provide people with enough income to afford the essentials.
Making the case for cash first approaches locally
Cash first approaches are not the norm at the local council level in England, neither is there much evidence surrounding their use. We have produced a literature review detailing existing evidence on the role of cash first interventions across the UK and the world, detailing areas of understanding which need to be developed.
The Trussell Trust is proud to have partnered with Leeds City Council and food banks in our network across the city to commission an evaluation into a cash grant pilot scheme, which provided cash to people in financial hardship in Leeds, rather than emergency food aid.
The findings from the evaluation have provided robust evidence that cash grants improve people’s immediate financial situation and help them to afford the essentials. Cash grants seemed to reduce the need for people to turn to emergency food aid in the short term. It has also found that people experiencing financial hardship overwhelmingly prefer cash to emergency food aid.
The evaluation has informed a policy briefing which explores the five key lessons leaders at all levels of government need to understand about cash transfers.
Watch the Leeds Cash First Pilot evaluation webinar
Speakers featured in the recording:
- Laura Chalmers, The Trussell Trust
- Danni Malone, The Trussell Trust
- Joe Farnworth-Mayers, The Trussell Trust
- Nick Hart, Leeds City Council
- Grace Lawrenson, Leeds City Council
- Jenny Hyde, Leeds City Council
- Dave Paterson, Leeds Food Aid Network (FAN), Unity in Poverty Action (UPA)
- Karen Burgon, Leeds North and West food bank
- Hannah Priest, Leeds North and West food bank
- Maria Marshall, Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN)
- Charlotte Maguire, Local Government Association (LGA)