More people than ever are relying on foodbanks because benefit levels are not covering the cost of essentials, a charity has revealed.
New data published by the Trussell Trust shows its network of foodbanks handed out 1,332,952 three-day emergency food parcels to struggling families, a 13% increase on the previous year.
The charity has highlighted that a shortfall in welfare payments is the biggest and fastest growing reason for referrals to a foodbank.
The category “low income – benefits, not earning” accounts for 28% of referrals across the UK, compared to 26% last year.
Emma Revie, chief executive of the charity, which is the largest foodbank operator in the UK, called for benefit levels to be increased in line with inflation to ensure payments keep pace with the cost of living, particularly for disabled people and families with dependent children.
She said: “As a nation we expect no one should be left hungry or destitute – illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job could happen to any of us, and we owe it to each other to make sure sufficient financial support is in place when we need it most.
“It’s hard to break free from hunger if there isn’t enough money coming in to cover the rising cost of absolute essentials like food and housing. For too many people staying above water is a daily struggle. It’s completely unacceptable that anyone is forced to turn to a foodbank as a result.
“Universal Credit (UC) is the future of our benefits system. It’s vital we get it right and ensure levels of payment keep pace with the rising cost of essentials, particularly for groups of people we know are already more likely to need a foodbank - disabled people, people dealing with an illness, families with children and single parents.”
Debt is also driving more people to foodbanks, accounting for 9% of referrals, up from 8% in the past year.
The figures show the costs and debts of housing and utility bills are increasingly fuelling foodbank referrals.
The other main primary referral reasons in 2017-18 were benefit delays (24%) and benefit changes (18%).
Referrals due to ‘benefit sanction’ have declined over the last year, but those due to ‘reduction in benefit value’ have the fastest growth rate of all referrals made due to a benefit change, and those due to ‘moving to a different benefit’ have also grown significantly.
UC is not the only benefit people at foodbanks are experiencing issues with, but it is a significant factor in many areas. New analysis of foodbanks that have been in full UC rollout areas for a year or more shows that these projects experienced an average increase of 52% in the twelve months after the full rollout date in their area, compared to twelve months before.
Analysis of foodbanks either not in full UC areas, or only in full rollout areas for up to three months, showed an average increase of 13%.
The release of the figures is accompanied by the report Left Behind: Is Universal Credit Truly Universal?.
The findings, from a survey of 284 people on UC referred to foodbanks, show the adverse impact of the initial wait, the lack of available statutory support, the inability of UC payments to cover the cost of living for people who most need it, and poor administration.
The Trussell Trust is asking for an urgent inquiry into poor administration within UC to resolve incorrect payments and poor communication issues as they arise.
A DWP spokesman said: “The reasons why people use food banks are complex, so it’s wrong to link a rise to any one cause.
“This research is based on anecdotal evidence from a small, self-selecting sample of less than 0.04% of current Universal Credit claimants, whereas Universal Credit is working for the vast majority who claim it. It was also carried out before our significant improvements to Universal Credit came into effect at the Budget; such as 100% advances, which support people before their first payment, removing the 7 waiting days and 2 weeks’ extra housing support for claimants moving onto Universal Credit.
“Since 2010, one million people have been lifted out of absolute poverty and employment is at a record high with over 3.2 million more people in work – equating to an extra 1,000 people employed a day, every day. Meanwhile we continue to spend £90 billion a year on welfare to support those who need it most. The best way to help people improve their lives is through employment, with people on Universal Credit moving into work faster and staying in work longer.”