Do you think you could live on just £50 a week? Because that is the reality for the majority of people who are turning to The Trussell Trust foodbank network.
The national foodbank charity’s State of Hunger report – put together by Heriot-Watt University – lays bare the shocking challenges that Britain’s poorest and most vulnerable people face every day.
As well as uncovering an average weekly post-rent income of £50, the study found that one in five people have even less to live on with no money coming at all in the month before they are referred for emergency food.
It is no surprise then that virtually all the people using Trussell Trust foodbanks – 94 per cent – are destitute while three-quarters of people living in households affected by ill-health and disability.
Big day for us @TrussellTrust today as we release the #StateOfHunger – the largest, most in-depth study into UK food bank use to date, undertaken by the amazing team at @ISPHERE_HWU. pic.twitter.com/4zmbOinrys
— Garry Lemon (@GazLemon) November 5, 2019
Single parents are another group hit hard, accounting for 22 per cent of people visiting food banks and a further three-quarters of total users were in arrears.
The Trussell Trust CEO Emma Revie is clear on the main drivers forcing people to turn to foodbanks: the benefits system, ill health and challenging life experiences, and a lack of local support.
“People are being locked into extreme poverty and pushed to the doors of foodbanks,” said Revie. “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.
“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.”
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The benefits system is the most common source of income for people at foodbanks, yet two-thirds of users are experiencing problems like sanctions, Universal Credit’s five-week wait and being turned down for disability benefits.
The government may have confirmed that the hated benefits freeze will end next year but benefits are still not covering living costs sufficiently. The Trust reckon that an £1 per week increase to main benefits could lead to 84 fewer food parcels being required every year in a typical local authority.
Foodbank user Amanda is one of the people who told researchers that benefits were not stretching far enough. She said that £130 of her £138 fortnightly benefit payment for a health condition goes to paying arrears, leaving her with only £8 to live on.
“If I don’t pay my bills, then I’ll get the house taken off me,” said Amanda. “After paying arrears, I’ve got £8 a fortnight and that’s to pay for gas, electric, water. So it’s just impossible, it really is. I go to bed at night wishing I never wake up in the morning.”
Everyone should have enough money for the basics. Today our #StateOfHunger report reveals an unparalleled level of detail about why people are forced to use #foodbanks. The research is clear: we need change now https://t.co/of9fCvN8J0 > pic.twitter.com/8aRvdCiJFJ
— The Trussell Trust (@TrussellTrust) November 5, 2019
The Trust is calling is calling for the Universal Credit five-week wait to be scrapped, benefits to cover the true cost of living and local crisis support funding for councils to be increased and ring-fenced.
But a DWP spokesperson said: “We take this report very seriously and continue to work closely with the Trussell Trust on this important issue.
“This week, we also announced working-age benefits will rise in line with inflation from April, giving millions of people more money in their pockets.
“But we are not complacent, and continue to make improvements to the benefits system to make sure people get all the support they need.”