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Tens of thousands of families used a foodbank at height of pandemic

14 May 2021

Trussell Trust and Heriot-Watt University survey foodbank use during Covid


A volunteer sorts and collects food at a Trussell Trust foodbank in London in February

A volunteer sorts and collects food at a Trussell Trust foodbank in London in February

FAMILIES are going hungry and have been pushed into hardship because of the pandemic, a new report from the foodbank charity the Trussell Trust confirms.

The report The State of Hunger 2021 is the second from a three-year independent project researching hunger in the UK (News, 8 November 2019). Commissioned by the Trussell Trust and conducted by Heriot-Watt University, the latest report also assessed the impact of lockdown on foodbank clients.

The trust conducted two surveys, one of 436 adults online in mid-2020, followed up between 22 June and 30 July, and a second of 716 adults, face-to-face, at 43 of its foodbanks between 15 January and 12 March this year. These findings and data from the Independent Food Aid Network reveal that, before the country went into lockdown, 2.5 per cent of all UK households used a foodbank, and almost all those referred met the definition of being destitute.

Record levels of redundancies and rising unemployment in 2020 meant that demand for emergency food parcels reached unprecedented levels during lockdown. Peaking in April 2020, when 87,000 households used a Trussell Trust foodbank, foodbank usage was one third higher by the end of June 2020 than it had been the previous February.

The findings, which were due to be discussed yesterday by an all-party parliamentary-group event on destitution, reveal that economic need is the most significant factor driving the use of foodbanks in the UK. Being on a low income, young, or unemployed, living alone, having poor health, and identifying as ethnic-minority are all significant predictors of food insecurity.

Sixteen per cent of people who used a foodbank in 2020 had been advised to shield by the NHS. People of pension age had a lower risk of food insecurity — 2.4 per cent among people aged 65 to 74 — compared with 9.4 per cent of adults aged 25 to 34. Six out of ten working-age people referred to a foodbank in early 2020 had a disability: a figure more than three times the rate in the UK working-age population.

The study points to the direct negative impact of Universal Credit on family finances. The five-week wait for payment, and the way in which deductions are taken from payments, push people below destitution levels, leaving them without enough money to buy food and other essentials, the study finds.

After data modelling, the report concludes that, had the £20-per-week uplift in Universal Credit been applied across all main income streams, the need for food parcels would be reduced by 30 per cent, the equivalent of about 1375 food parcels per local authority.

A former government adviser on social policy, Dame Louise Casey, said: “Food aid should be a one-off in the UK, not a new form of charity. It is in this Government’s gift to end hunger, but it warrants a concerted cross-government and cross-party action: a plan to end the need for foodbanks, delivered as an urgent priority.”

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