THE number of food parcels given out by Trussell Trust foodbanks has increased for the seventh year in a row: 1.1 million were distributed in the last financial year.
The latest figures, released today, show that emergency food for three days was handed out 1,109,309 times in 2015-16. On average, each person helped by a foodbank came twice, suggesting that about half a million people were fed by the network over the past 12 months.
In the previous year, 1.08 million parcels had been distributed. In 2012-13, the figure was 346,000.
The Trust’s UK foodbank director, Adrian Curtis, said on Wednesday that the data revealed the most common cause of foodbank referrals remained problems with benefits. Twenty-eight per cent of referrals were a result of delay in receiving welfare, and another 14 per cent were a result of changes to benefit payments.
Mr Curtis said that he was slightly cheered, however, by the fact this figure had dropped from last year, when 44 per cent of foodbank users cited benefits issues as the primary reason they needed emergency food-supplies.
Having a low income had also narrowly increased on the previous year’s figures, and now accounted for 23 per cent of all referrals. “Sometimes, if somebody is unemployed, or their income is not a set amount . . . that can cause many families to have to choose between buying food or paying their bills,” Mr Curtis said.
“We are encouraged that the proportion of people being referred to us with benefits issues has reduced slightly. But more needs to be done.”
The Trust welcomed the recent increase in the minimum wage to £7.20 an hour, he said, but “1.1 million people being referred is 1.1 million too many.”
Aside from problems with benefits and low income, other causes of foodbank use included debt (6.75 per cent), homelessness (5.1 per cent), unemployment (5.03 per cent), and even a lack of school meals for children during the holidays (0.84 per cent).
For the first time, researchers from the University of Hull have mapped the foodbank data against the 2011 census, and found that there was a strong correlation between districts with high foodbank usage and the percentage of the local population which is in manual work or have long-term health issues and disabilities.
Despite the improving economic outlook, which has pushed food poverty out of the headlines, the Trussell Trust had not seen any drop in support from its volunteers, including churches, Mr Curtis said.
“Food donations have actually increased over the last year,” he said. “We work with around 10,000 churches and 40,000 volunteers to run our 425 foodbanks. The support is still very strong from the church community.”
Delays go on and on THE Labour MP Frank Field has revealed that more than 150,000 people waited more than 10 days for their Jobseeker’s Allowance claim to be processed in 2015-16.
The delays in handling welfare claims were revealed in parliamentary answers to the veteran backbencher. Of the 154,309 people who waited more than 10 days, 44,000 were forced to wait more than 16 days.
Furthermore, more than half of those who applied for a short-term emergency payment to bridge the gap between making a claim and receiving any money were turned down: only 78,000 of the 171,000 applications were successful.
Mr Field said that while the Department for Work and Pensions had made progress in processing benefit claims faster, more needed to be done to avoid claimants being forced into hunger.
“For people with little or no money in the bank, to survive even a day, let alone two weeks, without an income is almost an impossible task. If the Department could deliver all new claims more swiftly within five working days it would immediately reduce by a third the numbers of people needing to rely on foodbanks.”
Charity reports rise in demand for debt counselling THE charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) has said that demand on its helpline for debt counselling has risen by more than a third since the start of this year.
The volume of calls to its helpline has climbed from an average of 449 people a week to 618. On one day last month, advisers answered more than 250 calls from people struggling with debt, and there was no sign of the upward trend slowing, its chief executive, Matt Barlow, said.
The rise in demand for CAP’s services corresponds to the increase in personal debt reported by the Bank of England, which said that unsecured borrowing rose by 9.1 per cent compared with the same month a year ago. In January this year, consumers borrowed a further £1.6 billion. One in six adults is now thought to be living with problem debt.
CAP runs 301 debt centres around the UK. A recent study by the charity found that one in ten of its clients were pensioners, a fifth were lone parents, 15 per cent had physical disabilities, and 25 per cent had poor mental health.
Mr Barlow said: “Problem debt isn’t a trivial thing. It’s not just a bit of reckless overspending. It’s mostly people on a low income struggling to make ends meet for years, who are then hit by a crisis.
“Maybe it’s a job loss, a failed relationship, or illness in the family; and what happens is that finances take a hit while they survive the immediate situation. Living with problem debt can be horrendous — companies ringing all through the day making demands, bailiffs knocking — you can feel you’re a family under siege, and it affects your health, relationships, and your children’s well-being.
””However, in 20 years of helping people with debt problems, we haven’t yet seen a case we couldn’t sort out.
“CAP is designed not to look at the cause of the problem, but to look ahead at how we can support someone to become debt free,” he said.