The State of Hunger: Our housing crisis is driving people to food banks

22 Jul

By Tom Weeks, Research Manager at the Trussell Trust

Today, as part of the State of Hunger blog series, we are exploring how issues with housing can drive people to food banks.  

With over 95,000 households living in temporary accommodation at the end of March 2021, today’s English homelessness statistics highlight the scale of the housing emergency we are facing. Despite the eviction ban (in place until the end of May 2021), in the first three months of 2021 alone over 36,500 households presented to their local council and were found to be homeless.  

People referred to food banks are at the forefront of this emergency and are far more likely to be homeless than the national average. In early 2020, one in five (20%) people referred to food banks were homeless, that is living in temporary or emergency accommodation, staying at family/friends, or sleeping rough. In the 12 months before receiving support from a food bank, three in ten people (29%) had experienced homelessness and one in eight (12%) had experienced eviction.  

Renting is also far more common amongst people referred to food banks than average. In early 2020, three-quarters (74%) of people who needed to use a food bank were renters, with a majority of them social renters. In 2019 just over one in three (37%) working age adults lived in rented accommodation.   

Issues with the benefits that renters receive for their housing costs, and deductions to these benefits because of their housing circumstances can drive them into destitution and put them at risk of needing support from a food bank.  

Homelessness can drive levels of need for food banks 

Homelessness is often caused by a fundamental lack of income. In early 2021 the main reason that one in five (20%) private renters were found to be homeless was because of rent arrears. Renters often face a toxic combination of extremely high housing costs and insecure tenancies. Food banks across the country have seen the consequences of this lack of income with year on year increases in need and a consistently large number of homeless people referred for support.  

We know that challenging life experiences such as homelessness can put people at greater risk of destitution and needing support from food banks. Homelessness can remove the support networks that people rely on or increase their living costs (for example if someone now needs to take public transport to work). Some people may also lose their job as they are unable to travel to it from their new accommodation. In the last decade, the number of households in England housed in different local authorities has increased by 315%, versus a 98% overall for the number of households in temporary accommodation. In the last decade, the number of households in England housed out of the area that they were living in has increased by 315%, versus a 98% overall for the number of households in temporary accommodation. 

Homelessness can also increase the risk of adverse health. Living in unsuitable, poor quality or overcrowded accommodation can damage peoples physical and mental health and moving area can disrupt access to established medical support. The majority (66%) of homeless people referred to food banks in early 2020 were disabled.   

Renters are being put at risk of needing support from food banks because of issues with their benefits 

For renters referred to food banks, housing costs can push them into destitution. In early 2020, over one in four (28%) households referred to food banks had housing costs at similar levels to their total household income in the last month, suggesting that they had little (if any) money left to buy other essentials. 

This is often due to issues of the adequacy of benefits. In early 2020, over one in four (28%) private rented households referred to food banks had a shortfall between their housing benefit and their housing costs. This meant they had to use the benefits meant for household essentials such as food to cover their rent. The very low levels of these core benefits means any use of them to cover rent puts people at risk of destitution.  

Many social renters face deductions from their benefits because of the removal of the spare room subsidy (commonly known as the ‘bedroom tax’). We know that this is a significant issue for people referred to food banks, reducing the amount of income overall that they have to afford essentials. State of Hunger analysis shows that in a typical local authority, 100 more households subject to the ‘bedroom tax’ increases the number of food parcels distributed by 46.  

In April 2020 the UK government made a welcome change in response to the pandemic, increasing the Local Housing Allowance rate (housing support for private renters). This is now frozen, exposing private renters to shortfalls as the real value of these benefits is eroded because of rent increases in the coming months and years.  

The UK Government needs to develop a plan to end the need for food banks – this should recognise the role that housing, and the benefit system plays in driving levels of need.  

To end the need for food banks we must ensure our UK social security system provides everyone with enough to afford the essentials. 

This should ensure that the benefits that people receive to cover their housing costs are enough, so no one is forced to choose between feeding themselves and their family and paying their rent.   

Making the £20 weekly increase to Universal Credit permanent and extending it to legacy benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance, would also give people the breathing space needed within their own budgets. 

The UK Government should develop a plan in partnership with people with lived experience of poverty, including people who have experienced homelessness. This would help identify the changes needed to the social security and housing system, to ensure everyone has a safe and secure place to call home and a sufficient level of income to afford the essentials. 

 

 

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State of Hunger: It’s not right that growing numbers of migrants without access to benefits are being forced to turn to food banks 

19 Jul

Last week, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ending the Need for Food Banks ran a joint event with the APPG on Immigration Law and Policy.

The groups  discussed the links between destitution, food bank use and No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF)  which is when migrants are not allowed to access the benefits system.  

In today’s instalment of the State of Hunger (2021) blog series, we are looking at the impact of the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition on people who are forced to turn to food banks for support. 

 The NRPF condition prevents a person subject to immigration control from accessing a range of welfare benefits except in a very limited number of cases.

This condition means many people with NRPF are forced to use food banks. Prior toBefore the pandemic, 2 to4% of people referred to food banks were likely subject to the NRPF condition, which rose to 11% in mid-2020. 

State of Hunger 2021 shows that 95% of people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network are experiencing destitution, a level of poverty which means they cannot meet all of their basic needs like food, heating and shelter.

While government legislation officially allows people with NRPF to be exempted from the condition if they are destitute or at imminent risk of destitution, our data shows that many destitute people with NRPF are still not getting the support they need, and forced to food banks as a result. 

The issues in the current system were highlighted starkly during the APPG discussion by panellists including Ealing Foodbank Manger Janet Fletcher. Janet explained how the food bank was seeing high numbers of people with NRPF coming to them for support, particularly since the pandemic hit, and that people feel the system is stacked to make them fail. 

People with NRPF coming to the food bank also told Janet how much they wanted to be able to give to society, but the present barriers in place prevented them making the full contribution they could, as well as stopping them from having adequate financial support to afford the essentials.   

Why has need increased particularly among people with NRPF during the pandemic? Evidence suggests that people with NRPF were particularly exposed to income shocks from the economic impact of the pandemic.

People with NRPF are more likely to be self-employed and/or in informal, casual and low-paid types of employment. These forms of employment have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic and those with NRPF have not been able to access government support. Due to the low-paid and precarious nature of their employment, many people with NRPF also have low levels of savings, making it harder to weather the financial shock of lost earnings. 

However, the issue of NRPF and food bank use is not a new one arising solely from the pandemic’s economic impact. State of Hunger 2021 shows that, before the pandemic, almost two in five referral agencies (38%) and a quarter (25%) of food bank managers said that the restricted access to public funds experienced by migrants and refugees had a very high impact on the need for food banks.

They also highlighted the impact of people with NRPF being denied access to local support services, with 31% of referral agencies and 10% of food bank managers saying that the limited or restricted access to local support services (such as welfare advice, debt advice, homelessness services etc.) had a very high impact on food bank need for this group. 

What can be done to prevent people with NRPF from needing to use food banks? The UK government has a major role to play in tackling this problem.

The government should work to increase the accessibility of Local Welfare Assistance Schemes to people in crisis who are subject to NRPF, building on the work local authorities have done during the pandemic. The government can learn from the work of local authorities and its own actions during the pandemic, such as the welcome choice to expand access to crisis support to people subject to NRPF through the Covid Local Support Grant, to ensure that, going forwards, support through LWAS is accessible. 

 It’s not right that anyone in our society experiences destitution, and as an absolute minimum the government must make it easier for people experiencing destitution to have the NRPF condition lifted so that they can access the support they need.  

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The State of Hunger: It’s not right that disabled people are being forced to turn to food banks

28 Jun

By Thomas Weekes, research manager at the Trussell Trust

This State of Hunger blog series digs into the reasons why people are forced to turn to food banks for support. Today we look at the link between disability and food bank use

More than six in ten (62%) working-age people referred to food banks in early 2020 were disabled.

That alone is shocking, but when you understand that it is more than three times the rate in the general population it is damning.

This isn’t right – we must do more to support people, so they don’t fall into crisis and need to use a food bank.

Disability often comes with additional costs, such as heating, insurance, equipment and therapies. These costs can dramatically reduce what disabled people have left to cover other costs, putting them at greater risk of hardship.

Our previous blogs have explored how issues with the social security system and health problems can drive people into destitution and we again see these factors at play here.

Issues with the social security system push disabled people into hardship.

The majority (78%) of households affected by disability who were referred to food banks in early 2020 were not in receipt of either Personal Independent Payments (PIP) or the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), the benefits that provide extra money to help disabled people get on with everyday life.

These households experienced the highest levels of material deprivation of households referred to food banks.

So why aren’t disabled people receiving these benefits?

Multiple reports have highlighted the impact on disabled people of the demanding criteria set in order to apply for, and successfully receive PIP. Many disabled people will not meet these criteria and are left without additional support to cover the costs associated with their disability.

When I went through with the Citizens Advice, they were the ones that suggested I apply for PIP because it would help. They went through the application and they told me that, ‘That’s fine. You’ve got suitable reasons for needing help and you will get PIP,’ and when the form came through, I wasn’t entitled. I didn’t score any points. (Disabled person interviewed as part of the State of Hunger)

Others will go through the often-lengthy process of challenging their assessments, and even if eventually successful, will face months, if not years of hardship to get to that stage.

I think it’s one of the PIP things, where they just no matter what, turn you down until you appeal it and gather more evidence, just to be persistent about it. (Disabled person interviewed as part of the State of Hunger)

Level of support is often not enough to prevent hardship, even when disabled people receive it

Even if some people are successful in applying for and receiving disability benefits, the level of support is often not enough to prevent hardship. Disabled people referred to food banks who were in receipt of PIP/DLA were in more acute material deprivation than households not affected by disability.

This suggests that these benefits are not sufficient to meet the extra costs associated with disability and ill health.

The very small numbers of people aged over 65 at food banks helps demonstrate why the inadequacy of the social security system is driving working-age disabled people to food banks.

While ill health and disability among people at food banks worsens with age, the cliff-edge drop in food bank use past age 65 can be in large part explained by the more generous support available for this group. For example, Pension Credit was over twice the value of the Universal Credit standard allowance going into the pandemic, and people over 65 are exempt from some of the most punitive social security policies such as the bedroom tax.

Disabled people experience higher levels of debt

We have previously written about how people referred to food banks face high levels of debt.

Households affected by disability were on average in greater levels of debt than other households referred to food banks. 23% of households with a disability were losing more than a quarter of their income on repaying debt or loans, compared to 14% among households not affected by disability. Four in ten (41%) of disabled people were in debt to the DWP.

The UK Government needs to develop a plan to end the need for food banks – this should recognise the experiences of disabled people

To end the need for food banks we must ensure our UK social security system provides everyone with enough to afford the essentials.

This should start with making the £20 weekly increase to Universal Credit permanent and extending it to legacy benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance, which people affected by disability disproportionately rely upon.

The Government should develop a plan in partnership with people with lived experience of poverty, including disabled people and carers. This would help identify the changes needed to disability benefits such as PIP, to ensure fair and consistent access and a sufficient level of income to afford the essentials.

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