Universal Credit is a key change to the Welfare system and the data shows its importance to those on low income
Gaps in the social safety net are a key reason why people are turning to food banks, according to the first in-depth study into the personal experiences of recipients of emergency food aid in the UK.
The findings of the jointly commissioned research published today by Oxfam, Child Poverty Action Group, Church of England and The Trussell Trust, also highlight some relatively simple fixes to the benefit system that could dramatically reduce the number of people who are left with little or no money to put food on the table.
The report, ‘Emergency Use Only’ interviewed 40 food bank users at seven Trussell Trust food banks, including six interviews in Scotland whose experiences help shed light on the factors that are driving food bank use in the UK. These interviews were backed up by additional data collected from 903 recipients at three Trussell Trust food banks and an analysis of the cases of 178 clients accessing an advice service at one food bank.
Key findings from the research showed:
Food banks were predominantly a last-resort, short-term measure, prompted by an ‘acute income crisis’ – something which had happened to completely stop or dramatically reduce their income
Income crisis could be caused by sudden loss of earnings, change in family circumstances or housing problems. However, for between half and two thirds of the users from whom additional data was collected, the immediate trigger for food bank use was linked to problems with benefits (including waiting for benefits to be paid, sanctions, problems with ESA*) or missing tax credits
Many food bank users were also not made aware of the various crisis payments available in different circumstances, and even fewer were receiving them
19-28% of users for whom additional data was collected had recently had household benefits stopped or reduced because of a sanction* and 28-34% were waiting for a benefit claim which had not been decided
Many food bank users faced multiple challenges, including ill-health, relationship breakdown, mental health problems or substantial caring responsibilities. Many were unable to work or had recently lost their job. The frequency of bereavement among food bank users was also a striking feature of this research