DEMAND for foodbanks has increased sharply by 13 per cent, two years after MPs suggested that it might have plateaued.
The Trussell Trust reported on Tuesday that its 428 foodbanks gave out more than 1.3 million packages of three-day food supplies to approximately 666,476 people between 1 April 2017 and 31 March this year: a 13-per-cent increase from the previous year. Eight new foodbanks were added to the network during this period.
In 2015, after the number of parcels had increased by 2.3 per cent in a year, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger suggested that demand might have “plateaued” (News, 11 December 2015). But the freeze on benefits, which came into effect in April 2016, means that people are struggling to afford essentials, the Trussell Trust says.
“Low income” is the most common reason cited by those referring people to the trust, accounting for 28 per cent of referrals. The second-commonest reason was benefit delays (24 per cent), followed by benefit changes (18 per cent).
Not all referrals are logged electronically, and those that are may not include detailed data. A sample suggests, however, that the percentage of “low-income” referrals, where the person is on benefits and not earning, has grown since 2016, while the percentage for those who are earning and not on benefits has fallen.
“It’s hard to break free from hunger if there isn’t enough money coming in to cover the rising cost of absolute essentials like food and housing,” the Trust’s chief executive, Emma Revie, said on Tuesday. “For too many people, staying above water is a daily struggle. It’s completely unacceptable that anyone is forced to turn to a foodbank as a result.”
Among other requests, the charity is calling on the Government to increase benefits in line with inflation. C of E bishops are among those who have called on the Government to end the benefits freeze (News, 22 August 2017). When it came into effect, inflation was 0.3 per cent; latest figures put it at 2.5 per cent.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has calculated that, by 2020, a family of four receiving Universal Credit will be worse off by more than £800 a year, even if both parents are working full-time on the national living wage.
Trussell Trust foodbanks in areas where Universal Credit has been fully rolled out for at least a year reported an average increase in demand of 52 per cent. Foodbanks where it has either been not rolled out, or only partially rolled out, showed an average increase of 13 per cent.
A survey of 284 people referred to a foodbank while experiencing an issue with Universal Credit found that, while waiting for their first payment, 70 per cent found themselves in debt, and 56 per cent experienced housing issues. Only eight per cent said that their full Universal Credit award covered their cost of living; this number fell to five per cent for those with disabilities. The trust is asking for an urgent inquiry into “poor administration” of the benefit.
The Department for Work and Pensions has pointed out that this was a “small self-selecting sample”, and was carried out before reforms such as the reduction in the waiting time for Universal Credit from six to five weeks came into force.
But the Trussell Trust argues: “Some people may be able to live with no income at all for five or six weeks, due to savings or help from family or friends, but, clearly, for people on the very lowest incomes, this is unfeasible.”