THE largest ever study of foodbank-use in the UK has shown that the welfare system is failing to care for the most vulnerable people in the country, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has warned.
The study by researchers at Heriot-Watt University, commissioned by the Trussell Trust, found that those using foodbanks had an average weekly income of just £50, and the overwhelming majority — 94 per cent — were destitute.
Bishop Butler said that the State of Hunger study, published this week, exposed the “scale and depth of food insecurity in this country”. He urged all political parties to study the report and remember their responsibility to the poorest and most vulnerable in society.
“It confirms that our benefits system is failing to properly care for those who are vulnerable. By denying families the support they need when they experience tough times, we are failing to ‘love our neighbour’.
“I am particularly troubled by the disproportionate impact on single parents and their children, who must suffer the indignity of relying on foodbanks. Every child should have the best start in life, without having to worry about where their next meal will come from.
“As we enter an election campaign focused on Brexit, I hope that all of the major parties will consider these findings carefully, and that, as a nation, we also remember our responsibility to ‘feed the hungry’.”
The report examined the factors that were driving people to foodbanks, and found that the three most common triggers were problems with benefit payments, sickness, and relationship breakdown.
Nearly three-quarters lived in households where there was ill health or disability, including mental ill-health, and nearly one quarter were single parents.
The majority — 94 per cent — of foodbank clients met the official definition of being destitute, and yet one in seven households had someone in employment. Almost one in five had no money coming in at all in the month before they were referred to a foodbank.
The study found that 11 per cent of children were living in homes that were classed as “food insecure”, and, in these families, women were particularly badly affected, as they were more likely to skip meals to give their children more to eat.
“Amanda” told researchers that £130 of her £138 fortnightly benefit payment for a health condition went to paying off arrears, leaving her with only £8: “If I don’t pay my bills, then I’ll get the house taken off me. After paying arrears, I’ve got £8 a fortnight, and that’s to pay for gas, electric, water. So it’s just impossible, it really is. I go to bed at night wishing I never wake up in the morning.”
The study estimates that, in the year 2018-19, more than three million emergency food parcels were given out by foodbanks.
Problems with benefits, including delays to Universal Credit payments, the introduction of the bedroom tax, and the withdrawal of disability benefits, emerged as some of the main factors that force people to use foodbanks.
The Trussell Trust called for an immediate end to the five-week wait for payments under Universal Credit; a rise in benefit payments to cover the “true cost of living”; and an increase in funding for councils to provide crisis support.
The CEO of the Trussell Trust, Emma Revie, said: “People are being locked into extreme poverty and pushed to the doors of foodbanks. Hunger in the UK isn’t about food — it’s about people not having enough money. People are trying to get by on £50 a week, and that’s just not enough for the essentials, let alone a decent standard of living.
“Many of us are being left without enough money to cover the most basic costs. We cannot let this continue in our country.”
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said that they took the report “very seriously”, and were committed to improving the benefit system to “get people the support they need and prevent them falling through the cracks”.
Research by the Church of England last year showed that 60 per cent of its churches were involved in either running or supporting food banks through volunteers, donations and providing venues.