A new study for the Trussell Trust finds 22% of people visiting food banks are single parents.
The average weekly income of people at food banks is only £50 after paying rent and almost one in five have no money coming in at all in the month before being referred for emergency food, according to a new study which finds nearly a quarter of people using food banks are single parents.
The three-year study by Herriot-Watt University for food bank charity the Trussell Trust found 94% of people at food banks are destitute and almost three-quarters live in households affected by ill-health or disability. Twenty two per cent are single parents, mainly mums – compared to 5% in the UK population.
The research also found that more than three-quarters of people referred to food banks were in arrears with the main causes being the benefits system, ill health and challenging life experiences, and a lack of local support.
Problems with benefits are widespread, affecting two thirds of people at food banks in the last year, says the study. Key benefits problems highlighted by the research are: a reduction in the value of benefit payments, being turned down for disability benefits, being sanctioned and delays in payments like the five-week wait for Universal Credit.
The majority of people referred to food banks also experienced a challenging life event, such as an eviction or household breakdown, in the year prior to using the food bank. Such events may increase living costs and make it harder to maintain paid work or to successfully claim benefits, says the study.
Almost three-quarters of people at food banks have a health issue, or live with someone who does. More than half of people at food banks live in households affected by a mental health problem, with anxiety and depression the most common. A quarter of people live in households where someone has a long-term physical condition; one in six has a physical disability; and one in 10 has a learning disability, or live with someone who does. Ill health often increases living costs and may be a barrier to doing paid work, the report says.
The study also found that the vast majority of people at food banks have either exhausted support from family or friends, were socially isolated or had family and friends who were not in a financial position to help.
Chief Executive Emma Revie says: “People are being locked into extreme poverty and pushed to the doors of food banks. Hunger in the UK isn’t about food – it’s about people not having enough money. People are trying to get by on £50 a week and that’s just not enough for the essentials, let alone a decent standard of living.
“Any of us could be hit by a health issue or job loss – the difference is what happens when that hits. We created a benefits system because we’re a country that believes in making sure financial support is there for each other if it’s needed. The question that naturally arises, then, is why the incomes of people at food banks are so low, despite being supported by that benefits system?
“Many of us are being left without enough money to cover the most basic costs. We cannot let this continue in our country. This can change – our benefits system could be the key to unlocking people from poverty if our government steps up and makes the changes needed. How we treat each other when life is hard speaks volumes about us as a nation. We can do better than this.”
The Trussell Trust is calling for three key urgent changes. They are an end the five-week wait for Universal Credit; an increase in benefit payments so they cover the true cost of living; and an increase in ringfenced funding for councils to provide local crisis support.