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More than six in ten referred to a food bank are Disabled people

13 May 2021

People forced to food banks at the start of the pandemic faced extreme poverty, with just £248 a month to survive on after housing costs, according to new research by the Trussell Trust.

The new study also shows that over seven in ten households referred to a food bank in early 2020 had someone with ill-health or disability, four times the rate in the general population.

A majority (62%) of working age people referred to food banks in early 2020 had a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010, more than three times the rate in the general working age population (19%).

People reporting poor health were six times more likely to be food insecure than people reporting ‘excellent’ health.

The Trussell Trust says that “this raises questions about the sufficiency of health-related ‘legacy benefits’ like ESA, which was not raised in April 2020”.

In addition the study also highlights problems relating to the benefits intended to compensate for the additional cost of living with disabilities and long-term health conditions - PIP, and its predecessor DLA.

It says that:

“These problems relate both to administration (delays and decisions which appear to be wrong based on appeal outcomes) and to the levels of income provided to at least some types of households (including the significant proportion of households with multiple disabilities or health conditions.”

The Trussell Trust maintains that hunger in the UK isn’t about food, but about people not having enough money for the basics.

In early 2020 95% of people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network were living in ‘destitution’ – this means people cannot afford to eat and stay warm and dry.

The main reason people had such low income was due to social security payments failing to cover the cost of living, according to the research.

Worryingly, the charity says people living in destitution risk being further pulled under by difficulties such as debt and mental health issues.

In mid-2020, 47% of all people using food banks and 41% of disabled people referred were in dept to the DWP, making it the most common creditor to people at food banks.

People experiencing poor mental health referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network grew from around half (51%) in early 2020 to almost three quarters (72%) in mid-2020.

The study says that issues with the social security system –particularly its design –is the most immediate driver of insufficient income:

Among the recommendations the Trust makes to help end food bank use are:

  • Ensuring the UK social security system provides everyone with enough to afford the essentials. The UK Government should ensure that no-one has to rely on the distribution of emergency food to support people in crisis, by ensuring benefit payments are sufficient, accessible and responsive. This should start with making the £20 weekly increase to Universal Credit permanent and extending it to legacy benefits.
  • Ensuring local lifelines are available to get people the right support at the right time. The UK Government should ensure people have immediate support to ensure a short-term crisis does not turn into long-term hardship by investing in cash-based grants and coordinated local support services. This should start with committing dedicated long-term funding for local welfare assistance schemes in England.
  • Involving food banks and people with lived experience in shaping the plan to end the need for food banks. The UK Government should harness the expertise and commitment in communities across the country to end the need for food banks. The plan should be developed across UK government departments, recognising the interconnected issues which drive people to needing support from food banks.

The Trussell Trust’s research report State of Hunger 2021 is available from trusselltrust.org.

See also our related news story Shocking Food Foundation figures on Disabled People experiencing food insecurity.