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A comprehensive three year study by National Foodbank charity Trussell Trust and Heriot Watt University has been released today. Titled; The State of Hunger, it gives an insight to what has been driving the massive increase in foodbank use across the UK. It is clear from the report that there is one main reason; benefits. 86% of those surveyed were on some form of state welfare benefit, predominantly Universal Credit. With a General Election coming, this isn’t what the government would want back in the news.
It is not news that welfare reforms are connected to the dramatic rise in foodbank use in the UK. What wasn’t known before was just how much to blame it really was.
Today, Foodbank Charity The Trussell Trust and Heriott Watt University have released the results of a three year study into the reasons people are having to visit their local foodbank.
State of Hunger 2019 is an incredibly in-depth study that used the following methods to come to it’s conclusions.
- A review of literature and expert opinion (The Trussell Trust, 2019)
- A survey of over 1,100 people who have been referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network across 42 organisations in the network covering the profile, triggers and background to their use of food banks
- A survey of 306 referral agencies in 13 localities about the drivers and local contexts
- A survey of 28 food bank managers on the same issues, and the administration of the food bank user survey
- •In-depth interviews with people who have been referred to food banks about their experience and background
- Statistical modelling of the drivers of food parcel take-up.
The 114 page report looks at not just the who, but the reasons people are finding themselves in need of assistance.
Who is Using Foodbanks?
Before we get to the reasons, I will explain the various groups especially at risk of being in need of an emergency food parcel.
The headline figure is that 86% of those visiting foodbanks are on some form of welfare benefit from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The main benefit affecting people now is Universal Credit.
However, that is not the end of the story. Nearly 75% of those surveyed had a health condition.
As can be seen from the graph above, over 50% of users suffer from a mental health condition. The in broadly in-line with a 2017 report by Trussell Trust that found 46% of Universal Credit claimants suffered from some form of mental health issue.
A quarter of people needing help with food suffer from a long-term disability. This is something that I will return too later.
The study found that lone parents are one of the the most common affected group of people using foodbanks at 17%, with households composed of two or more adults and no children under 16 had the lowest prevalence at 6%.
Single people living alone came in top at 46%. Having a child under 16 was shown to dramatically increase the chances of food insecurity.
People in rented accommodation are not far from being the exclusive group affected. Only 4% of those surveyed were found to be homeowners, whilst 23% were homeless.
Overall the report paints a bleak picture for those most in need of help. It shows that if you are in a vulnerable position, you’re most at risk of going hungry. And that leads onto the why.
What Is Causing The Hunger Crisis?
It’s probably not news to anyone that state benefits are most to blame for foodbank use. 86% is a phenomenally high number of people for it not to be taken seriously.
Welfare reforms, particularly Universal Credit are to blame accroding to the report.
The five week wait, which the Trussell Trust have been campaigning to be changed, is right up there as a main protagonist.
Here are just some of the main reasons cited as responsible for the increase of foodbank use and destitution.
- Five week waiting period on Universal Credit
- Benefits Freeze
- Bedroom Tax
- Two child cap
- Increase in sanctions
- DWP deductions from benefit payments
- More failed Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments
- More people being found fit to work on Universal Credit
- Benefit payment errors
- Childcare Costs Paid In Arrears
That is not an exhaustive list. It is an insight as to just how much the Conservatives 2012 Welfare Reforms have really contributed to foodbank use.
The DWP and the government defend the five week waiting period by stating that claimants can take an advance. The only issue there is, the repayments they take off claimants to repay the advance, are leaving them short anyway. It’s a lose lose situation whichever way you look at it.
Again, disabled people and those with a long term illness are shown to be at major risk of being affected. The hostile Work Capability Assessments by private companies have been shown to be unreliable and often completely wrong.
74% of people who challenge a health assessment, have the decision overturned in their favour. This is wasting more money on legal fees and back payments with interest, than if they just did it right first time.
The benefit freeze which is due to end next April, has been deeply responsible for foodbank use according to this study. It states that as little as £1 extra a week in benefit payments could see 30 people less per foodbank almost immediately.
This week the DWP and the media announced that the benefits freeze was ending in April 2020. The way it was reported was if the Conservatives had made this decision out of the good of their hearts, it wasn’t. It was ending anyway, but poor reporting has many thinking this was Boris Johnson showing compassion.
A statistic that hit close to home for me, was the finding that the average weekly income after housing costs for those surveyed was £50.
This report hits very close to home to me for several reasons. In 2017 and 2018, I used foodbanks a lot. This was because I was moved from Employment and Support Allowance to Universal Credit. I took the advance on advice of the DWP, and it made things far worse.
For 9 months, after housing costs, I was left with £190 a month to pay my bills and buy food. After paying bills like electricity, gas etc, I was left with a grand total of £21.00 for food for the month. I had and still do, take my two young sons at the weekend, so had this to factor in too.
Having been declared unfit for work since 2010, the DWP found that I was fit to work when I was moved to Universal Credit.
I ended up losing 25% of my body mass, attempting suicide twice and selling a lot of my belongings just to survive. After a year the DWP suddenly changed their mind and stated that I was indeed to fit to work.
But it didn’t end there. I was due back payment for when I had been incorrectly been classed as fit. However, in stepped the HMRC and I say 90% of that years back payment taken for various Tax Credit overpayments they couldn’t even provide me with proof of. They made a £15 goodwill payment for the stress they had caused me.
So this report only reinforces just how dangerous Universal Credit and Welfare Reforms in general really are.
With the General Election coming, the Conservatives will be keen to play on Brexit, but I ask anyone reading this to at least stop and think; Is Brexit the be all, end of your decision?