‘Emergency Use Only’ Report: Understand and reducing the use of foodbanks in the UK

Use of emergency food aid in the UK has dramatically increased over the last decade, with a ground-breaking ‘Emergency Use Only’ report released today listening to the voices of foodbank users to explore what drives foodbank usage in the UK.

The research was jointly conducted by us, alongside Oxfam, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the Church of England, examining why people are turning to foodbanks, how foodbank use fits with their wider coping strategies, and what might be done to reduce the need that leads to foodbank use.

40 in-depth interviews with Trussell Trust foodbank users were conducted, supported by data collected from more than 900 recipients to give a moving insight into the reality of poverty & why foodbanks are needed.

David McAuley, Trussell Trust CEO said: “This new evidence brings into sharp focus the uncomfortable reality of what happens when a ‘life shock’ or benefit problem hits those on low incomes: parents go hungry, stress and anxiety increase, and the issue can all too quickly escalate into crippling debt, housing problems and illness. The Trussell Trust has consistently said that too many people are falling through gaps in the social security system. The voices of food bank users heard in this report have informed the united call from four respected anti-poverty bodies to implement simple fixes to the welfare system. We welcome the opportunity to engage positively with politicians of all parties in order to work together to enable solutions for the poorest in the UK.”

Key findings from the research showed:

Food banks were predominantly a last-resort, short-term measure, prompted by an ‘acute income crisis’ – something which had happened to completely stop or dramatically reduce their income

Income crisis could be caused by sudden loss of earnings, change in family circumstances or housing problems. However, for between half and two thirds of the users from whom additional data was collected, the immediate trigger for food bank use was linked to problems with benefits (including waiting for benefits to be paid, sanctions, problems with ESA) or missing tax credits

Many food bank users were also not made aware of the various crisis payments available in different circumstances, and even fewer were receiving them

19-28% of users for whom additional data was collected had recently had household benefits stopped or reduced because of a sanction and 28-34% were waiting for a benefit claim which had not been decided

Many food bank users faced multiple challenges, including ill-health, relationship breakdown, mental health problems or substantial caring responsibilities. Many were unable to work or had recently lost their job. The frequency of bereavement among food bank users was also a striking feature of this research