THE tough, complex lives of those who use foodbanks are laid
bare in a new report that documents how "life-shocks", including
illness, bereavement, and job-loss, are compounded by a benefits
system that leaves families struggling to put food on the
Published on Wednesday morning, the report - Emergency Use
Only - was produced jointly by the Church of England, the
Child Poverty Action Group, Oxfam, and the Trussell Trust. It seeks
to fill a vacuum in research about the reasons for the increase in
use of foodbanks (parcels distributed by the Trussell Trust
increased from 346,992 to 913,138 between 2012 and 2013).
In-depth interviews were carried out with 40 people from seven
foodbanks, in addition to analysis of data from more than 900
clients at three foodbanks (Tower Hamlets, Epsom and Ewell, and
County Durham), and a detailed study of the issues faced by 178
clients at Tower Hamlets foodbank.
The researchers concluded that most users were facing an
"immediate, acute financial crisis". This was often precipitated by
events outside their control - a "failure of income which they did
not instigate, or the effects of which they were unable to
reverse". It was not uncommon for interviewees to have experienced
several "particularly dramatic, negative life events", including
bereavement, accidents, or physical or mental illness.
Kath, a mother with three teenage sons, one of whom has serious
medical problems, had her child tax credits halved without notice.
Raja waited eight weeks for his Jobseeker's Allowance to be
processed after losing his job. His benefits were then sanctioned
after he failed to complete an online job search because he didn't
have access to a computer during the Christmas period (the library
was shut). Mary and Neil, a young couple with a baby, struggled to
survive on £20 a week after Neil lost his job, unaware of their
entitlement to tax credits. The researchers found "no substantial
evidence that foodbank use was significantly linked to
participants' not being able to budget". Going to a foodbank was
described by interviewees as "unnatural", "embarrassing", and
The report calls on the Government to make changes to the
benefits system, including improving access to short-term benefit
advances and reforming sanctions policy. Of the 900 clients
studied, 28-34 per cent were waiting for a benefit claim that had
not been decided; 19-28 per cent had been sanctioned; nine-16 per
cent had seen their employment support allowance stopped because
they were found "fit for work".
On Wednesday, a government spokesperson said: "This country has
been through the deepest recession since modern records began, and
sticking to this Government's long-term economic plan is the only
way to improve living standards.
"The report itself concludes it can't 'prove anything' - it uses
self-selecting data and recognises there are complex underlying
"We have a strong safety-net in place, spending £94 billion a
year on working-age benefits, and we provide a wide range of advice
and assistance for anyone in need of additional support."
The report acknowledges that the research is not nationally
representative and "cannot provide definite numbers regarding how
many foodbank users experienced particular issues". The researchers
argue, however, that it provides "three case-studies of foodbanks
in very different areas, giving a good indication of the likely
prevalence of issues".
The Department for Work and Pensions Minister Steve Webb was due
to attend the launch on Wednesday, but cancelled his attendance
owing to "diary commitments".
Read the report in full
Foodbank priest arrested
Question of the week: Are foodbanks an effective way of
dealing with poverty?