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Pushed to the Edge: Poverty, food banks and mental health

09 March 2022

Last month, the Food Foundation highlighted a sharp increase in the number of people experiencing food insecurity, up from 7.3% of households to 8.8% or 4.7 million adults in the UK.

Disabled people were highlighted as one of the groups most affected, being five times more likely to be at risk from food insecurity compared to non-Disabled people.

Now new research, co-produced by the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), explores the impact of poverty and food bank use on people's mental health.

The report, Pushed to the Edge, is based on in-depth interviews conducted with people needing to use food banks in November and December 2021. The interviewees' history, views, and concerns form the bulk of the report’s narrative.

Commenting on the interviews, the author of the report, Tom Pollard, a Mental Health Social Worker, says that for everyone he spoke to, the events and circumstances that had led them to turn to a food bank were complex and personal.

However, he also stresses it was clear that the underlying reason they needed this support was simple and universal: the income they were receiving – primarily from social security – was not enough to cover their basic needs or provide the stability they needed to improve their situation.

In terms of the impact of food insecurity on mental health, the report highlights that many of the interviewees had either developed mental health problems, had existing mental health problems exacerbated, or, at the very least, were showing warning signs of poor mental health such as disturbed sleep and physical manifestations of sustained stress.

Concerningly, many of them spoke of feeling trapped, hopeless, and a burden on others – within mental health services these are seen as critical warning signs when it comes to assessing the risk of suicide.

In concluding remarks, Tom Pollard says: “The purpose of this research was to document the experiences of people who are having to turn to food aid, rather than to make specific policy recommendations.

“However, it is evident from these accounts that a social security system that ensures people have sufficient income to meet their basic costs would not only remove the need for food aid but also relieve a huge amount of suffering.”

DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Officer said: “The cost of living crisis can only make the increase in food bank use spiral, especially with benefits only rising by 3% from April. In the short term, a benefit rise of 7% is essential.

“In the longer term, we need to maintain the campaign for a decent social security system designed In full co-production with Disabled people.”

The full IFAN and JRF report Pushed to the Edge: poverty, food banks, and mental health is available from foodaidnetwork.org.uk

See also our news story Nearly half of people referred to Trussell Trust food banks are in debt to the DWP.