Opinion

Things can only get better... if the Labour government takes urgent action to tackle poverty

Helen Barnard at the Trussell Trust calls on the new Labour government to take urgent action to tackle poverty in the UK

labour keir starmer

Labour's Keir Starmer on the campaign trail. Image: Flickr/ Keir Starmer

For the first time in 14 years, we have a Labour government in the UK. Many things have changed in this country since Labour were last in power – in 2010, the Trussell Trust network was distributing approximately 60,000 food parcels a year. Now this number is more than three million, the most parcels the network has ever distributed in a single year.

These numbers are extremely shocking, and it is clear this cannot be allowed to continue. The food banks in our network do an incredible job supporting people in their local communities who are struggling to get by, but they are at breaking point. For too many years now, food bank need has risen because people on the lowest incomes simply do not have enough money to afford the essentials.

We know the new government faces an extremely challenging backdrop and competing demands, but taking urgent action to reduce hardship and ensuring people can afford the essentials must be top of mind. The public will judge this government on whether it succeeds in reversing the tide of hunger, hardship and debt which is impacting so many people in this country. Nearly eight in 10 (79%) people say that poverty in the UK is a big problem; most (74%) believe that it is the UK government’s responsibility to change this.

The current level of hardship simply cannot go on, and the charity sector cannot continue to shoulder this burden alone. We urge the new prime minister, his government and every newly elected MP to join us to achieve the change that so many communities are crying out for. The government must take swift action to ease the hardship we see in our communities and ensure it does not worsen on their watch.

Hardship and poverty come with a huge cost. There is of course the human cost of people not being able to afford the essentials that we all need to survive, but there is also a cost to our economy and the public finances. The impact of hardship on people’s health leads to significant costs to public services like the NHS. An economy cannot thrive while so many people are trapped in poverty and forced to turn to charities for help.

We welcome the government’s commitment in their manifesto to end the need for large numbers of people needing to seek emergency food. We want to see them set out an urgent plan to tackle hardship, introducing immediate measures to prevent people being pulled further into crisis and a spiral of hardship and debt, while we wait for promised long-term change. The government must act now to ease the pressures coming this winter and ensure hunger does not worsen on their watch.

In recent years, the household support fund has enabled local authorities in England to maintain support for people struggling to get by in their communities. This funding has enabled local authorities to support preventative services like welfare and debt advice as well as targeted grants to low-income households to help those struggling with unexpected costs. We are calling on the government to extend the household support fund by at least six months, to sustain crisis support ahead of a difficult winter and allow time to put in place a long-term strategy.

Additionally, we urge them to introduce a protected minimum floor in universal credit, so benefit deductions don’t push people into further hardship. We also want to see extended support for renters by ensuring that local housing allowance continues to keep up with rents. These actions would have a significant impact on people experiencing hardship and would be a welcome sign of the government’s commitment to respond to the reality communities are facing across the UK.

Alongside these immediate steps, we are ready to work with the government on a long-term plan to significantly reduce the need for food banks by the end of this parliament, and eventually end it for good.



This plan must include reform of our social security system. At the Trussell Trust we know that the biggest driver of food bank need is the failure of the current system to protect people from going without the essentials. Recent research has indicated that approximately five in six low-income households receiving universal credit are going without at least one essential like food, a warm home or toiletries.

Every government has the responsibility to set out what our society should look like. The new Labour government has run on a platform of ‘change’. This change must lead to a future where no one in this country goes without the essentials because they can’t afford them.

We know what’s needed to end the need for food banks, and we know that it is achievable only if decisive action is taken. People on the frontline and organisations like the Trussell Trust stand ready to work with government and across all sectors to make this a reality. We urge our new government to work with us to achieve long-lasting change for the benefit of all our communities.

Helen Barnard is director of policy, research and impact at the Trussell Trust.

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