A report by the University of Oxford published last week has found that over half of Trussell Trust foodbank users belong to a household with a disabled person in it. The report also found that benefits sanctions and delays in benefits payments are a major cause of foodbank use, with claimants in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance particularly at risk.
The report looked at over 400 households that have used foodbanks. It found that:
- Over 50% of households included a disabled person.
- 75% experienced ill health in their household.
- Mental health conditions affected people in 1/3 of households.
- Nearly 2 in 5 people were awaiting a benefit payment, with most of these waiting up to 6 weeks, though a fifth were waiting 7 weeks or more. A third of delays were for Employment Support Allowance payments, with people in the work related activity group particularly at risk of needing a foodbank.
Dr Rachel Loopstra, the lead author of the report, Lecturer in Nutrition at King’s College London, and Associate Member of the Department of Sociology, University of Oxford, said:
“We observed how commonly income or expenditure shocks, whether arising from a delay in receiving a benefit payment, from a benefit sanction, or from rising energy costs, tipped households into food bank use.
“But these shocks, and resulting food bank usage, occur among people who live with extremely low incomes and chronic food insecurity, where meeting basic needs is an ongoing struggle.
“The severity and chronicity of food insecurity and other forms of destitution we observed amongst people using food banks are serious public health concerns.”
The report made a number of recommendations, including:
- An inquiry into adequacy of benefits and support for disabled people or people with long-term health conditions that make getting into work, or staying in work, difficult or impossible, as well as continued commitment to reviewing the appropriateness of Work Capability Assessments, would be invaluable.
- Delays in benefit payments must be addressed with urgency, with more support provided for people affected, with a view to indexing benefits to the cost of living.
However, David Gauke, the new secretary of state for work and pensions, has already made it clear that the freeze on benefits uprating will remain and that, in his view, increased food bank use is largely down to increased awareness of their existence:
“I would expect the benefit freeze to continue. It is sometimes scoffed at, but the fact is there is much greater awareness of food banks than was the case previously. It’s become much more widely used.
“If we want to reduce poverty, if we want to reduce the need for people to use food banks, it’s that we have got to have a strong economy that creates jobs.”