Jubilee+ Team
Trussell Trust releases 18/19 Foodbank data

The Trussell Trust has today released its latest data on Foodbank usage - and it is not a pretty picture.

In the year April 2018 to March 2019, Trussell Trust foodbanks had their busiest year since the charity opened. 1.6m emergency food parcels were given to people in crisis in the year - a 19% increase on 2017/18, and a 73% increase since 2013/14.

"Each aid parcel includes enough ingredients for three meals a day for three days - meaning some 14.25 million meals were provided by the country’s biggest foodbank network. Heartbreakingly, more than five million meals - some 577,618 packages - went to children." - The Mirror

And these figures don't account for the many independent foodbanks, not affiliated with the Trussell Trust, that are also in operation. For example, in Scotland in April 2018-March 2019 at least 156,735 emergency food parcels were given out by 84 independent food banks, beyond the Trussell Trust network's distribution of 210,605 emergency food parcels from 137 food banks, according to the Independent Food Aid Network. Nationwide, the Trussell Trust network accounts for roughly two-thirds of all emergency food banks.

As we have repeatedly noted, the Universal Credit rollout is a significant factor in the increased usage of foodbanks. The Trussell Trust has been monitoring the rollout of UC and the rise in Foodbank usage in areas where it has been implemented. Their research shows that:

  1. When Universal Credit goes live in an area, there is a demonstrable increase in demand in local Trussell Trust foodbanks. On average, 12 months after roll-out, food banks see a 52% increase in demand, compared to 13% in areas with Universal Credit for 3 months or less. This increase cannot be attributed to randomness and exists even after accounting for seasonal and other variations.
  1. Benefit transitions, most likely due to people moving onto Universal Credit, are increasingly accounting for more referrals and are likely driving up need in areas of full Universal Credit roll-out. Waiting for the first payment is a key cause, while for many simply the act of moving over to a new system is causing hardship.
The five week wait for the first payment is of particular concern:

"The wait for a first payment had severe and immediate consequences: 70% of respondents found themselves in debt, 57% experienced issues with their mental or physical health, and 56% experienced housing issues. The majority of respondents were waiting or had waited the intended weeks for their payment but this wait still had severe financial implications." - Trussell Trust

A spokesperson from the Department of Work and Pensions claimed today that:

"It is not true to say that people need to wait five weeks for their first payment. Universal Credit is available to claimants on day one.

"It also cannot be claimed that Universal Credit is driving the overall use of foodbanks or that benefit changes and delays are driving growth.

"The Trust’s own analysis shows a substantial fall in the share of parcels being issued due to benefit payment delays."

However, this is deliberately misleading:

- Claimants do have to wait at least five weeks to begin receiving the new benefit. They can take a loan to tide them over if necessary, but must pay it back within a year - and the installments are taken from their benefit payments, meaning they receive less each month than they are entitled to.

- The proportion of foodbank users citing benefit delays has fallen, but the actual number coming for that reason has risen. The proportion has fallen because of rises in other factors, such as low income - despite high employment figures - and benefit changes.  The Trust's figures show that:

"Between April 2018 and March 2019, 49% of electronic food bank referrals [a subset of all referrals, giving more detail about the reason for the referral] made due to a delay in benefits being paid were linked to Universal Credit."

The DWP also states that,

"The best route out of poverty is to help people into sustainable employment which, with record employment, we are doing."

However, the statistics speak for themselves. No one visits a foodbank unless they are in poverty - and all users must be referred by an agency which is familiar with their situation and is convinced they are in need. The DWP counts someone as being 'in employment' if they are receiving at least one hour's work per week. This is clearly not sufficient to keep even one person out of poverty, let alone his or her household. Jubilee+ team members have anecdotal evidence from their foodbanks in London and Hastings of the numbers of clients they see each week who are in work but still unable to make ends meet.

While we affirm the inherent value of work, it is disingenuous of the DWP to claim that their 'record employment' figures are synonymous with declining poverty. 

Charities working on the frontline know that the truth is very different.

Jubilee+ continues to support the Trussell Trust's #5WeeksTooLong campaign calling for an end to the 5+ week wait for Universal Credit. We call on the government to take note of the statistics released today and to ensure that Universal Credit is fit for purpose and provides a reliable safety net for those in need across the UK.