Foodbank use linked to poverty – official report

Low incomes, unemployment and benefit delays have combined to trigger increased demand for foodbanks among the UK's poorest families, according to an independent report commissioned by the government.

The report, by researchers at Warwick University and the Food Ethics Council, directly contradicts the claim by a coalition government minister that the rise in foodbank use is due to the fact that there are now more of them.

Key findings

  • There is growing demand for help to meet food needs. Crises in household income, such as loss of a job or problems with social security benefits, are often underpinned by on-going problems of low income, rising food and other costs, and increasing indebtedness.
  • This growing demand may have contributed to more food aid being provided, through existing and new structures. There is no evidence to support the idea that increased food aid provision is driving demand.
  • Many 'food insecure' households struggle to manage food needs, and adopt a range of tactics to avoid having to ask for help. Seeking food aid is usually a strategy of last resort.
  • Many such households do not use food aid for a variety of reasons, including access, awareness and stigma. International research findings on household behaviour under financial pressure are a useful contribution to understanding this problem in the UK.
  • Food aid provision is vulnerable to not being able to meet existing or rising demand. It is dependent on donations and volunteers, which may not be sufficient to meet rising need. There is a risk that the organisational effort involved makes it harder to focus on developing long-term solutions to household food insecurity.

One of the report authors, Elizabeth Dowler from the University of Warwick, said: 'We are delighted our report has been published [the report was submitted to ministers in June last year]. We urge the government to learn from it and from those living in harsh circumstances, and to find creative, fair ways to enable all in this rich country to have enough money to be able to eat healthily. This work is urgent'.

Source: Hannah Lambie-Mumford, Daniel Crossley, Eric Jensen, Monae Verbeke and Elizabeth Dowler, Household Food Security in the UK: A Review of Food Aid, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
LinksReport | Summary | Appendices | Warwick University press release | Guardian report (1) | Guardian report (2) | New Statesman report

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Publication date: 
Feb 20 2014