AS MANY as 80 per cent of the more than 1.2 million foodbank-users in the UK are forced to skip meals “multiple times a year” because they cannot afford basic provisions, research from the University of Oxford and King’s College, London, suggests.
The research was published yesterday in a report, Financial Insecurity, Food Insecurity, and Disability, from the Trussell Trust, which runs 428 foodbanks across the country. Inflation, coupled with low incomes and benefit delays, are largely to blame, the charity says.
Of the more than 400 households served by the 18 foodbanks surveyed for its report, almost half reported regularly “unsteady” incomes. For 78 per cent of households, in the past year, going without eating was the only solution — sometimes for days at a time — to cut expenditure. Three out of five said that rising or unexpected expenses, including increased food prices, were a key cause.
Disability and illness were also cited. Half of households that were reliant on foodbanks were home to a disabled person. Illness affected three-quarters of households, including mental illness, which affected one in three.
The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, who co-chaired an independent inquiry into foodbanks, Feeding Britain, in 2014 (News, 12 December 2014), urged the Government to listen to the warning signs. “Sadly, I am not surprised by this report. The reality is that there are many people who need emergency food aid in this country, and they do so for a variety of reasons.”
Debt was also related to foodbank usage and other forms of destitution, in the report. A third of households said that they had struggled to meet minimum monthly repayments on outstanding loans, while nearly a fifth owed money to payday lenders.
Half of the households surveyed said that they had gone without heating for more than four days in the past year, and could not afford toiletries, while one in five people said that they had been forced to sleep rough in the past 12 months.
The chief executive of the Trussell Trust, David McAuley, said: “These findings serve, first, to reinforce what we already know: poverty and hunger are real in the UK today. People referred to foodbanks are not scroungers looking for a handout. It reminds us how important it is that foodbanks treat people with dignity and respect, and offer them not only food, but a chance to speak to someone who cares.”
While Bishop Thornton was grateful to the thousands of volunteers who ran foodbanks, the reasons for their existence were not being addressed “as they should be by those in positions of power”, he said.
“The importance of this report is that it once again highlights how quickly households can go from managing to crisis, and that there are a variety of causes for this, but benefits and mental-health issues are very high on the list,” he said. “I hope that the new Government will be open to listening to this, and working to make the systemic changes that are clearly necessary.”
The report comes after a report from the National Office of Statistics, on Wednesday, suggested that almost a third of the UK population had fallen into poverty in recent years.
Read the report here.