People forced to food banks at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic faced extreme poverty, with just £248 a month to survive on after housing costs, according to new research.
Its State of Hunger 2021 report, The Trussell Trust found that more than six in ten (62 per cent) of working-age people referred to a food bank in early 2020 were disabled – more than three times the rate in the UK working age population.
Meanwhile, single parent families are more likely to be forced to a food bank, with almost one in five (18 per cent) of households referred to food banks during the pandemic being single parents – more than twice the rate in the general population (eight per cent).
The charity says hunger in the UK isn’t about food, it’s about people not having enough money for the basics. The research shows extremely low income is a key factor in driving people to food banks. In early 2020, the average monthly household income after housing costs for people who needed to use a food bank was £248 on average, or £8 a day for a couple without children. This needs to cover energy and water costs, council tax, food and other essentials and is just 13 per cent of the average national income.
In early 2020, 95 per cent of people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network were living in ‘destitution’.
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. This was more often than not due to the design of the system, including issues such as the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment and low levels of payments.
The Trust says people living in destitution risk being further pulled under by difficulties such as debt and mental health issues. The research finds in mid-2020 nine in 10 households at food banks were in debt, while six in 10 had arrears on bills and owed money on loans.
In mid-2020, 47 per cent of all people using food banks and 41 per cent of disabled people referred were indebted to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), making it the most common creditor to people at food banks.
With high rates of unemployment and redundancies, the charity says more people than never are now likely to need the social security system to provide a lifeline to keep them afloat. The charity says this should start with keeping the £20 increase to Universal Credit introduced during the pandemic but set to be removed in the autumn.
Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said: “People struggling in extreme poverty are pushed to the doors of food banks because they do not have enough money to survive.
“We know we can change this. We need to change the conversation around poverty and take action together. We need government at all levels to commit to ending the need for food banks once and for all and to develop a plan to do so. It’s time for government to make this a priority – to recognise that it must be an essential part of their levelling up agenda to work towards a hunger free future where we can all afford the basics.”
Picture: A volunteer at a Trussell Trust food bank wears gloves and a face mask amid the Covid-19 pandemic whilst packing a client parcel. (HASPhotos/Shutterstock).