People forced to rely on food donations face multiple forms of destitution, poor health and household income as low as £320 a month, one of the biggest ever studies into Britain’s foodbanks has found.
Almost half of the households involved in the Oxford University study reported their incomes were unsteady from week-to-week and month-to-month.
A shocking 78% were severely food insecure - meaning they had skipped meals and gone without eating – sometimes for days at a time.
Over half could not afford heating or toiletries, while three in five said they were struggling with unexpected expenses.
Some 28% of those who had experienced rising expenses said this was due to housing costs, such as rent or energy, going up.
One in five said they had slept rough in the prior 12 months.
Over 50% of households included a disabled person, and worryingly, the study predicted those in receipt of employment support allowance (ESA) were more likely to be forced to seek emergency food parcels.
New changes to ESA may increase the use of foodbanks by some claimants, the study added.
Around 75% experienced ill health in their household. While mental health conditions affected people in one in three of households.
The study, commissioned by foodbank charity The Trussell Trust, covered eleven regions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and involved more than 400 households and data on income, living standards, and health.
Researcher Dr Rachel Loopstra told HuffPost UK: “This confirmed many of the stories we were hearing. The goal of this research was to put case studies in context - it was perhaps not surprising that the findings were shocking.
“While there’s a lot of variability in foodbanks in other countries, the findings in the Trussell Trust foodbanks in Britain show that people are in chronic poverty and really deep poverty. They are using a foodbank after experiencing an ‘income shock’ but this happens in a context of those with low incomes. Most people in our survey were using income and out of work benefits.
“We saw many people who were on employment and support allowance and disability allowance. Many of these had been affected by sanctions, which does raise the question whether benefit support are sufficient for people to meet their basic living costs.
“What we are seeing still is the point at which people use a foodbank suggest they are at desperation and have nothing left.”
... the point at which people use a foodbank suggest they are at desperation and have nothing left Researcher Dr Rachel Loopstra
David McAuley, chief executive of The Trussell Trust, said: “This pioneering research confirms to us what those volunteers have been telling us: Every day they are meeting people trying to cope with low, insecure incomes and rising prices that mean even the smallest unexpected expense can leave them destitute and hungry.
“Particularly concerning are the very high numbers of disabled people or people with mental health problems needing foodbanks.
“Making work more secure and tackling the high cost of living would have a significant impact on the lives of people in extreme poverty. I look forward to working with the new Government to start tackling these issues together.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We’re helping millions of households meet the everyday cost of living and keep more of what they earn while also spending over £90bn a year in extra support for those who need it. Employment is the best route out of poverty, and with record numbers of people – including disabled people – now in work, we’ve made great progress.
“But we want to go even further to help ordinary families. That’s why we’ve doubled free childcare, introduced Universal Credit and increased the National Living Wage and tax free Personal Allowance to make sure it always pays to be in work.”