The State of Hunger: Now is the time to make sure our social security system is strong enough for all of us when we need a lifeline

11 Jun

By Tom Weekes, Research Manager

The Trussell Trust is calling for government at all levels to develop a plan for ending the need for food banks. Our State of Hunger research shows that the clearest place to start is ensuring that people have enough income to support themselves. Significant changes to our social security system are needed to ensure we all have a strong enough lifeline when we face hard times.

This blog explores the relationship between social security and need for food banks. The State of Hunger shows consistent evidence that the design of the social security system, and particularly the level of support that people receive is a key reason for why people need support from food banks. From applying to receiving support, the design of the system puts people at risk of hardship.

Applying and receiving benefits can be challenging and pushes people into hardship

Applications for Universal Credit (UC) must be online, a challenging experience for people experiencing destitution with limited digital access. This is compounded by an application process that can often feel arduous and confrontational. For people who have experienced challenging life events, who are disabled, or have mental health problems these may be barriers that cannot be overcome without help and the delay in applying can push people further into hardship.

Some people may not have the option of applying for social security. Many people in the UK live with ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) meaning they cannot receive public financial support. This problem has been particularly exposed during pandemic. In early 2020 2% of people referred to food banks were estimated to have NRPF status, which increased to 11% after March 2020.

Concerns around eligibility are also mirrored for people trying to apply for disability benefits such as Personal Independence Payments (PIP). The lack of support for disabled people, who may have significant additional costs related to their disability but do not meet the demanding criteria for PIP, is a significant driver of need.

If you have overcome these barriers and are able to successfully claim support you face a five week wait for payment, which in practice is often longer. This forces people to choose between experiencing hardship during these weeks or taking on an advance payment which then has to be repaid at a later stage.

The level of support from social security is too low to protect people from hardship

The State of Hunger highlights the very low level of social security payments as a significant driver of need for food banks. Research has shown that the UC standard allowance and other income replacement benefits provide only a third of the income necessary for a minimum socially acceptable standard of living, as measured by the ‘Minimum Income Standard’.

Other benefits are also not sufficient to meet costs. People who are privately renting in receipt of social security receive additional support which is meant to cover their housing costs. However, the report shows that the amount received is often not enough, meaning people have to dig into their subsistence benefits (which are already too low to support a minimum standard) to keep a roof over their heads.

People in receipt of social security often do not receive everything they are entitled to because of deductions from the government

People in receipt of social security often find these limited payments reduced even further.

People who took on an advance payment to tide them over during the wait for UC face long term reductions to the amount of income they receive to pay this back. This is common amongst people needing support from food banks. Between early and mid-2020, the DWP became the most common lender to people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network with almost half (47%) saying they owed money to the DWP and 73% of people referred in receipt of UC were repaying an advance.

Other design features reducing support include the ‘bedroom tax’ which reduces the amount of housing support people receive if they are socially renting and have a room in which someone does not permanently reside. 17% of social renters were paying this in early 2020.

Our social security system can keep families afloat. But the evidence from State of Hunger is clear: the flaws in its design mean our social security system is not protecting people from harm, and is instead driving people to food banks.  

As we look to rebuild our society, we need to see the government develop a plan to end the need for food banks. This plan should include:

  1. Ensuring everyone has enough to afford the essentials – starting with keeping the £20 increase to Universal Credit and extending this to legacy benefits, so we can reach all families who need this lifeline.
  2. Ensuring local lifelines are available to get people the right support at the right time – investing in and improving coordination of local support, such as local welfare assistance schemes.
  3. Involving food banks and people with lived experience and adopting a cross-government approach.

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Budget 2021: Rishi Sunak misses opportunity to strengthen social security and protect people from poverty

4 Mar

Blog by Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust

We are almost a year on from the beginning of a devastating pandemic which has taken away people’s lives and livelihoods.

We have seen a monumental rise in levels of serious hardship, record levels of need across our network of food banks and a vast number of people coming to food banks for the first time in their lives.

That is why today’s Budget was such a pivotal moment for our country. It was a vital opportunity to strengthen our social security system and help protect people on the lowest incomes for the difficult year ahead.

In his Budget the Chancellor announced a 6-month extension to the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, which was introduced at the start of the pandemic. While it’s right that this is maintained for six months, this short-term fix does not address the serious hardship and uncertainty families will face when it is removed in September, at a time when unemployment is forecast tohat’s more, people on most legacy benefits will continue to miss out.

We know from our recent research that the uplift has provided vital breathing space to hard-pressed budgets, with seven in ten (72%) people on Universal Credit since early 2020 saying the increase has made it easier to afford essentials.

One person, a teacher and a single mother, told us: “[The uplift] has made it possible to survive. Without it I could not afford heating or electricity. The increase has meant that I can get food for the fourth week in a month.”

The risks of removing the uplift are also clear, as one in five people currently on Universal Credit we surveyed think it’s very likely they’ll need support from a food bank if the removal goes ahead as planned. This represents more than one million people.

There are some bright spots in the Budget, which will provide support to people on the lowest incomes. We are pleased the government decided to bring forward plans to extend the period over which people must repay loans owed to the government to cover advance payments. These are loans many people need to take out to cover the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment.

The government is also reducing the maximum amount which people can be forced to repay in debts to the Department for Work and Pensions. These measures were meant to come into effect this October, but will now do so in April – something we called for in our recent ‘Lift the Burden’ report.

But is does not come close to mitigating the impact of what will amount to a £1,000 income cut for low-income households in the autumn, taking with it the dignity this lifeline offered.

As we have seen over the last year, illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job can happen to any of us. We have also seen the positive benefits of what can happen when we work together. We owe it to each other to make sure sufficient financial support is in place when we need it most.

We know this can change. It is not too late for the government to rethink this plan. Along with our partners, we are urgently calling for the Chancellor to extend the uplift to 12 months at the very least, preventing people up and down the country from being swept into poverty in the wake of the pandemic.

Last week the Prime Minister promised that the government would ‘continue to look after people throughout this pandemic and beyond’, but the Chancellor’s announcement fails to address the ‘beyond’.

It’s time to build a better future together, taking action to create a stronger, more just society where everyone can afford the basics. That’s why we’re urging the public to join our Hunger Free Future movement to help create a UK without the need for food banks once and for all.

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Budget 2021: our response

3 Mar

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has set out the government’s spending plans in today’s Budget. The full details of these are available here.

In response, Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said:

“Today’s Budget has failed to give security to families on the lowest incomes by refusing to extend the Universal Credit uplift for the full, difficult year ahead. While it’s right the government extended the uplift by six months, this short-term fix does not address the serious hardship and uncertainty families will face when it is removed in September.

“We know removing the uplift could drive more than one million people to food banks and many more people are expected to need Universal Credit as unemployment rises.

“This isn’t right. We know this can change. We and our partners are urgently calling on the Chancellor to re-think and extend the uplift to 12 months at the very least, preventing people up and down the country from being swept into poverty in the wake of the pandemic.

“It’s time to build a better future together, taking action to create a stronger, more just society where everyone can afford the basics.”

Ends

For more information contact the Trussell Trust Press Office at 020 3137 3699 or press@trusselltrust.org

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2,600 food parcels provided for children every day in first six months of the pandemic

12 Nov

 2,600 food parcels provided for children every day in first six months of the pandemic  

  • Food banks in the Trussell Trust’s UK network saw a shocking 47% increase in need during the crisis, building on record need experienced during the same period last year
  • The charity warns these figures are the tip of the iceberg, as many people will have been helped by other community groups
  • Welcome steps have been taken by the UK government but longer-term action is needed, and the Trussell Trust is calling for people to join the campaign to build a Hunger Free Future

New figures released today reveal 2,600 emergency food parcels were provided for children every day on average by food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network during the first six months of the pandemic. 

More than 1.2 million emergency food parcels were given to people struggling to afford essentials by food banks in the Trussell Trust’s UK-wide network between 1st April and 30th September 2020, making it the busiest ever half-year period for food banksover 470,000 of these parcels went to children.  

While the figures highlight the level of need across the UK, the charity warns their new figures do not include the number of people helped by the countless new community organisations, independent food banks and local authoritieswhich have stepped up during the pandemic to support their communities. 

The Trussell Trust is asking anyone who wants to ‘end the injustice of people needing food banks’ to join the campaign for a Hunger Free Future.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, explains:  

“Throughout 2020, communities across the country have stepped in to provide vital support to people left without enough money. Volunteers in food banks have been working hard under extremely difficult circumstances to make sure support is there for people struggling to afford essentials. But it’s not right that any of us are forced to a charity for food, at any time of year.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve seen incredible compassion and concern for people facing hunger following Marcus Rashford’s brilliant campaigning. And it’s hugely welcome to see the government build on steps already taken by providing significant new funding for local councils in England. This vital local support must work in coordination with a national welfare system that is strong enough to act as a lifeline to anyone struggling to afford the essentials.

“This pandemic has shown the unexpected can hit us suddenly, with devastating consequences for people’s lives. But it’s also shown we can make huge changes to the way we live and look after each other. It’s shown that when we come together to push for change, the government responds. Together, we can build a hunger free future.”

The Trussell Trust has welcomed recent steps made by the government to prevent people from falling into destitution – including the announcement of the £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme for England which is an important boost for local welfare assistance the charity has campaigned for.  

But the charity is concerned that food banks in its network may still see high levels of need over the winter and beyond – particularly as redundancies recently hit a record highdoubling since the previous quarter. It’s asking the government to ensure money is kept in the pockets of people who need it most by: 

  • Locking in the £20 rise to Universal Credit, brought in at the start of the pandemic, and making sure that people currently excluded, such as people receiving payments through the legacy system, get this money too  
  • Helping people hold on to more of their benefits by suspending benefit debt deductions until a fairer approach to repayments can be introduced 

ENDS   

Contact     

Contact the Trussell Trust Press Office at 020 3137 3699 or press@trusselltrust.org    

Notes to editors   

  • Between 1st April 2020 and 30st September 2020, food banks in the Trussell Trust’s UK-wide network provided 1,239,399 emergency parcels to people in crisis. 470,854 of these parcels went to children. 
  • These parcels were distributed by over 1,350 distribution centres operating in 295 local authority areas in the UK.  
  • This is a 47% increase on the same period last year, when 843,655 emergency supplies were provided to people in crisis. 309,090 of these supplies went to children. 
  • During this period in 2020, on average 2,573 emergency parcels were distributed to children every day.  
  • The top three reasons for someone being referred to a food bank in the Trussell Trust’s network during April to September were low income (47%), benefit delays (9%) and sickness/ill-health (6%)  
  • ‘Emergency food parcel’: this typically is a three-day parcel containing emergency food for one person. During the crisis food banks have also been distributing seven-day parcels. For this release the Trussell Trust have simply combined both three-day and seven-day parcels together to report the total number of emergency food parcels that were distributed. 
  • The increase in the total volume of food given out to support people therefore outstrips the number of parcels distributed. In comparison to the same period in 2019 there was a 59 per cent increase in the total weight of food distributed 
  • These statistics are a measure of volume rather than unique individuals.  
  • Trussell Trust figures cannot be used to fully explain the scale of food bank use across the UK, because figures relate to food banks in the network and not to the hundreds of independent food banks. Research from the Independent Food Aid Network shows there are at least 946 independent food banks, with many other organisations also distributing emergency food during the pandemic.  
  • Redundancies increased by a record 181,000 between Q2 2020 and Q3 2020, a 138% increase. https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/bulletins/uklabourmarket/november2020  

 

About the Trussell Trust: 

  • We’re here to end the need for food banks in UK.   
  • We support a UK-wide network of more than 1,300 food bank centres and together we provide emergency food and support to people locked in poverty, and campaign for change to end the need for food banks in the UK.   
  • Our most recent figures for the number of emergency food supplies provided by our network: https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/   
  • The Trussell Trust’s food bank network brings together volunteers, staff and supporters of all faiths and none to make a difference. Local churches play a vital part in this work, with around 12,000 churches actively involved in donating food, and providing venues, volunteers and financial support for food banks.  
  • You can read more about our work at trusselltrust.org 

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