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.
Why does local policy matter to ending the need for food banks?
95% of people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network in 2020 were destitute, meaning they could not afford the essentials we all need. This is primarily caused by insufficiently low levels of income through social security, which is a matter of national policy.
But when any of us find ourselves up against difficult life events or financial hardship, it is our local place where we can find immediate support. When these local services are lacking, difficult life events can push and trap people into destitution.
Being on an extremely low income places people on an unstable footing – it doesn’t take much to tip people over the edge.
Nearly three quarters of people who have been referred to a food bank in the Trussell Trust network in early 2020 had a difficult life experience in the past 12 months – such as losing a job, becoming sick, facing a recent bereavement, or becoming homeless.
We know that having access to well run, effective, accessible, and dignified local services can support people out of financial hardship and prevent people from needing to turn to a food bank. Local policy matters in preventing a short term shock from turning into longer term hardship.
Without effective formal support at the local level, people on low incomes find their only option is to turn to the informal networks of support from their friends or family, or, more often, to food banks in our network.
So, whilst food banks in our network will do everything that they can to support people facing financial hardship, we believe local government can play a vital role in supporting people to afford the essentials and prevent crises from emerging so that no one finds themselves needing to turn to a food bank.
The untapped potential of Local Government led responses to destitution
When any of us face a financial crisis, we deserve to have access to well run, effective, accessible, and dignified local services. It is at the local level where we experience difficulty.
Local decision makers are much closer to the ground. They can easily identify communities in need of further support. Local policy works best when it is rooted in the lived experience of the local community and targeted to those most in need.
But in many places, local support is not joined up effectively – whether this is due to a lack of targeting, communication, poor link up between statutory and voluntary services, or an absence of sufficient funding from central government.
And whilst a holistic and preventative local support system can be a vital tool in ending the need for food banks, it will only ever act as a sticking plaster if we do not have a benefits system which provides people with a sufficient income for the essentials.
Publications on Local Policy
- Cash in a crisis – how local government in England can embed cash-first solutions to provide support to people on low incomes. This report explores why giving people cash is a more dignified response than the provision of emergency food and lays out recommendations for local authorities in England to deliver it across their services.
Future plans on local policy development:
Over the coming months, the Policy and Research team at the Trussell Trust will be working to build a broader evidence base on the role local government across the UK can play in ending the need for food banks.