Numbers turning to foodbanks are continuing to rise despite economic recovery, and more people are struggling to get by because their incomes are too low, says leading foodbank charity The Trussell Trust.
The charity, which runs a network of over 400 UK foodbanks, says that the number of people helped by their foodbanks in the first half of the 2014-15 financial year is 38% higher than numbers helped during the same period last year. 492,641 people were given three days' food and support, including 176,565 children, between April and September 2014, compared to 355,982 during same period in previous year.
Problems with the social security system continue to be the biggest overall trigger for foodbank use (45%), of which ‘benefit delays’ accounted for 30% of referrals, and ‘benefit changes’ 15%. However, a new emerging trend is that 22% of those helped were referred because of 'low income' compared to 16% of referrals in the same period last year – in real terms, this means that 51,000 more people were referred to a foodbank due to low income.
Trussell Trust Chief Executive, David McAuley says: "Whilst the rate of new foodbanks opening has slowed dramatically, we're continuing to see a significant increase in numbers helped by foodbanks. Substantial numbers are needing help because of problems with the social security system but what's new is that we're also seeing a marked rise in numbers of people coming to us with 'low income' as the primary cause of their crisis. Incomes for the poorest have not been increasing in line with inflation and many, whether in low paid work or on welfare, are not yet seeing the benefits of economic recovery. Instead, they are living on a financial knife edge where one small change in circumstances or a ‘life shock’ can force them into a crisis where they cannot afford to eat."
The Trussell Trust is developing a 'More Than Food' approach at its foodbanks to help people break out of crisis long term. The charity is working with Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis to pilot placing financial advisers in foodbanks to help people managing extremely low incomes but the charity warns that stopping UK hunger cannot rest solely with the charity sector and the armies of foodbank volunteers.
David McAuley also commented: "To reduce food poverty in the UK long term, we need policy makers across the political spectrum to truly understand what life on the breadline is like. Last week we, alongside three other major anti-poverty organisations, urged the government to consider some simple fixes to the social security system that would help dramatically reduce numbers needing foodbanks. The Trussell Trust is keen for politicians across all parties to engage with us, to visit our foodbanks and to find out more about the experiences of foodbank users."
Latest Trussell Trust statistics on foodbank use follow on from the newly released Emergency Use Only report published by Oxfam, Trussell Trust, Church of England and CPAG. The report, which is the first in-depth, qualitative research into why people are turning to foodbanks in the UK, gives a revealing insight into how quickly a crisis or ‘life shock’ can escalate into hunger, housing loss and debt, when you are on a low income. It corroborates Trussell Trust data showing that problems with social security are the highest single cause of foodbank use, saying that: "The research showed that the(se) very real challenges people face are too often being compounded - rather than assisted - by their experience of the social security system."
The research also highlights the fact that people turn to foodbanks out of real and desperate need, as well as proving foodbanks to be a vital lifeline to many.
Trussell Trust Chairman, Chris Mould says: "Foodbank use is not rising because people are taking advantage of free food, it’s rising because more people are facing situations where they cannot afford to eat. Foodbank use is a last resort when other coping strategies have been exhausted. People speak of the shame and embarrassment that they feel before visiting a foodbank, and the courage it took to walk through the door. The fact that almost 500,000 people have found themselves in this situation in just six months should be deeply concerning to our nation. The qualitative evidence and personal stories in Emergency Use Only combined with the Trussell Trust’s latest figures should leave no one in any doubt that UK hunger is real, distressing and a problem that continues to demand urgent attention."