Benefit payments delays are responsible for one in five referrals to foodbanks while benefit sanctions were responsible for 1 in 12 referrals, according to a new study by the University of Oxford and University of Chester.
The landmark two-year study of statistical data from West Cheshire Foodbank, part of the Trussell Trust Foodbank Network, provides valuable and unequivocal evidence on the causes of food poverty and who uses foodbanks.
Information was collected from 5,808 households referred to the foodbank over a 24 month period between May 2014 and April 2016, in one of the most systematic and detailed studies into foodbank use to be carried out in the UK, leading to the publication of the #stillhungry report.
The report’s findings reveal persistent levels of hunger and financial crisis, whilst also exposing gaping holes in the welfare safety net. Young adults and those of working age were most likely to be referred to Cheshire West Foodbank because of problems with benefits, while those aged 65 and over needed emergency food due to debt and low-incomes.
Benefit sanctions were responsible for over 7% of referrals. Of those affected by benefit sanctions, more than one in five was a child.
Welfare reform and benefit changes accounted for 15% of all referrals, mainly affecting those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), or whose benefits had been cut or stopped completely.
One in five referrals were due to benefit delays, again mainly affecting those claiming JSA and ESA, while a similar proportion of referrals were due to low income – a growing problem.
Foodbank users left with insufficient money to buy food due to debt problems accounted for 16% of referrals.
The #stillhungry report also reveals the duration of crisis faced by those in need of emergency food:
- Benefit changes and delays typically lasted one to four weeks, while longer delays of 13 weeks or longer were less common.
- The duration of crisis for people hit by benefit sanctions was longer than any other referral reasons, resulting in a period of crises lasting 13 weeks or longer for 13% of foodbank users.
- Debt was commonly both a short-term and long-term problem. Some households faced long-term or acute problems paying household bills, due to debt repayments or short-term payday loans.
- Crisis due to low income tended to be short-term.
Trussell Trust has called for improvements to Job Centre Plus services and practices, reform to benefit sanctions policy and practice, adequate social security payment levels, reform to the mandatory reconsideration process for benefit appeals/disputes, improved access to local welfare assistance schemes, and measures to increase wages and job security.
David McAuley, CEO at The Trussell Trust said: “The work of The Trussell Trust’s foodbank network and sustained commitment from its volunteers has provided much-needed support for people in crisis; yet this alone will not solve the problem of hunger. Charities can be part of the solution but they cannot be the sole solution.
“We are at a pivotal point in British politics post the EU referendum, with a new Prime Minister who has an opportunity to make social justice the centrepiece of what they do. Now more than ever we must work together to ensure fewer families face poverty.
“There’s an opportunity for all of us to look at the body of evidence in the report, particularly on sanctions, where an alternative approach would help tackle the underlying causes of hunger.”
Dr Elisabeth Garratt, report author and postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Social Investigation, based at Nuffield College, Oxford University, said: “Our research demonstrates the persistence of hunger in 21st century Britain. Referrals have risen in 2016 and there is every indication that foodbanks are here to stay.
“One in three people receiving emergency food from West Cheshire Foodbank is a child, indicating shocking levels of poverty that are unacceptable in a country as wealthy as ours.
“Despite enormous commitment on the part of volunteers, the provision of emergency food cannot address the underlying and long-term causes of food poverty. We call upon the Government to take effective steps to ensure that foodbanks do not become an established part of our society.”
Rev. Christine Jones, Chair of Trustees at West Cheshire Foodbank added: “In a prosperous country, it is completely unacceptable that national policy consistently fails to respond effectively to the evidence that on-going hunger remains a reality for increasing numbers of people.
“In order to avoid food banks becoming a permanent part of the welfare furniture, it is critical that we all understand and act on the drivers of food poverty together.”
Trussell Trust provided 1,109,309 three day emergency food supplies in the 2015/16 financial year, compared to 1,084,604 in 2014/15. Of these, 415,866 went to children.
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article and need help and support, further information and advice can be found at https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/.