Landmark research, commissioned by the Trussell Trust food bank network and Heriot-Watt University, reveals that foodbank users are left with an average of £50 a week to buy food and pay vital household bills after housing costs.
The ‘State of Hunger 2019’ report is one of the most definitive assessments of food poverty in the UK to date, and reveals that almost one in five households have no money coming in at all in the month before being referred to a food bank.
According to the research, 94% of people at food banks are destitute, almost three-quarters of people at food banks live in households affected by ill-health or disability, 22% of food bank users are single parents – compared to 5% in the UK population – and more than three-quarters have rent arrears.
The report, based on three years of research, highlights the three main causes of hunger and destitution in the UK: the benefits system, ill health, and a lack of welfare support from local authorities.
Trussell Trust says the majority of people referred to its food banks are in receipt of some form of social security payment, with many of these people being in work and dependent on benefits or tax credits (or Universal Credit) to top-up low wages.
They add: “Key benefits problems highlighted by the research are: a reduction in the value of benefit payments, being turned down for disability benefits, being sanctioned, and delays in payments like the five week wait for Universal Credit.”
The nationwide charity argues that increasing the value of benefits by as little as £1 per week for each main benefit type could lead to 84 fewer food parcels a year per local area.
The research also found that “almost three-quarters of people at food banks have a health issue, or live with someone who does.”
“More than half of people at food banks live in households affected by a mental health problem, with anxiety and depression the most common.
“A quarter of people live in households where someone has a long-term physical condition; one in six has a physical disability; and one in 10 has a learning disability, or live with someone who does.
The report adds: “Ill health often increases living costs and may be a barrier to doing paid work.”
Amanda (not her real name) told researchers that £130 of her £138 fortnightly benefit payment for a health condition goes to paying arrears, leaving her with only £8 to live on.
She said: “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.”
Chief Executive Emma Revie said: “People are being locked into extreme poverty and pushed to the doors of food banks.
“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.
“Any of us could be hit by a health issue or job loss – the difference is what happens when that hits.
“We created a benefits system because we’re a country that believes in making sure financial support is there for each other if it’s needed.
“The question that naturally arises, then, is why the incomes of people at food banks are so low, despite being supported by that benefits system?”
Trussell Trust is calling on the UK Government to end the minimum five-week-wait for Universal Credit, ensure that benefit payments cover the “true cost of living”, and provide increased and ring-fenced funding for councils to allow them to provide local crisis support.