UK Foodbank Figures Are Still Increasing, But This Year Something's New

25/04/2017 12:26 BST | Updated 25/04/2017 12:26 BST
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This year, The Trussell Trust turns 20, and our network of 428 foodbanks has once again distributed more emergency food to people in crisis than ever before.

In our time as a charity there have been many high points. It has been an honour to work with passionate people in communities across the UK to develop practical solutions to poverty. But nothing can mask the sad reality that we're only here because people are going hungry.

When people are referred to us for a food parcel, they've most likely tried everything they can to get back on their feet, but it just hasn't worked. That's why we're here to give them a cup of tea, a listening ear, and some food. We work hard to give people hope and extra support so that they recover from their crisis and will not need emergency food in the future.

But in this role we have consistently refused to be just an emergency response. Firstly we have been developing a More than Food programme to offer support and advice, and secondly we have been gathering data and undertaking research into the reasons why people come to foodbanks. Ever since we started noticing foodbank use was increasing, we've been vocal about what we have found and keen to work with politicians, businesses and other charities to tackle hunger in communities up and down the country.

Today, The Trussell Trust released new foodbank statistics revealing that over 1,182,000 three day emergency food supplies were given to people in crisis in past year, with over 436,000 given to children. Issues with benefits continued to be the main reason why people were referred to us.

It's not new for foodbank figures to be increasing. But this year something's changed.

Today we also release Early Warnings, a report focused on Universal Credit - the new system of administering benefits which is currently being rolled out across the UK. Ever since we began to partner with communities to tackle poverty and hunger from the frontline, the insights of our Foodbank Network have been seen by some as 'early warning signs' of the effects policy level changes can have on the ground.

This is the first time The Trussell Trust has released a report which outlines observations from foodbanks about the impact of a policy-level change and what can be done to ease any adverse side effects, before it's fully rolled out across the UK. We're raising foodbanks' concerns now, before it's fully rolled out, so our insights can inform efforts to make sure the values on which Universal Credit is built are delivered in practice as it unfolds.

The report finds that foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout to single people, couples and families, have seen a 16.85% average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64%. It also finds that people claiming Universal Credit are seeing long waits, which are leading to poor mental health, piling debts, and issues with housing. Foodbanks are helping as much as they can - but they stand alongside, not instead of, the welfare system.

We know the system of benefits right now is too complicated - foodbanks often speak to people that are experiencing the system for the first time and are struggling to understand how it works and what they need to do. The move to simplify it is a welcome one. However, we also understand that any large reform can have unforeseen consequences. We are sharing the frontline insights of our foodbank network with the Department for Work and Pensions, and the wider public, to ensure any adverse side effects are addressed in policy and practice.

To be honest, I didn't think we'd be releasing this year's end of year foodbank figures 6 weeks before a General Election.

Over the last year we have posed practical suggestions to decision-makers to tackle the issues foodbanks are seeing, rooted in evidence from our Network. These include: reducing the 6-week wait for Universal Credit payments; introducing hotlines between Jobcentres and foodbanks to speed up issues quickly; and adopting a true yellow card warning system for benefit sanctions.

We have been encouraged by Secretary of State Damian Green's willingness to engage, his department's work to pilot improvements, and the recent changes to the Universal Credit taper rate which mean people moving into work will keep more of their earnings. We hope we will be able to continue building constructive engagement with future Members and Ministers, as we have done with current decision-makers, who have shown a proactive positive engagement with The Trussell Trust in order to tackle hunger in the UK.

Tackling hunger and poverty in the UK is not the responsibility of any one party, charity, or business, but should be the concern of every candidate, and voter, across the UK.