The correlation between increased food poverty and the implementation of Universal Credit is stark. The #5WeeksTooLong report published last year by The Trussell Trust shows that wherever Universal Credit is introduced, food bank usage jumps. This isn’t just a short term shock, either. The longer Universal Credit has been rolled out in an area, the higher the demand on food banks becomes. In areas where UC has been rolled out for a year, demand on food banks rose by 30%. Within 18 months of roll out that figure increases to 40% and, after two years it reaches 48%.
As Hugh Owen, Director of Strategy and Public Affairs at Riverside, who co-authored the #5 week wait report with The Trussell Trust said:
‘Many of our tenants told us that they are struggling to keep afloat when they move onto Universal Credit; the long wait means that many people are going without food or heating and they are forced to use foodbanks in order to feed their families.’
A Growing Issue
The roll out of Universal Credit is one of the key drivers that has seen food bank demand increase nationwide. In the latest available figures for food bank usage from The Trussell Trust, covering April – September 2019, the amount of emergency food parcels distributed in the UK was 823,145. This was a 23% increase on the same period during the previous year.
Responding to these figures, Emma Revie, chief executive of The Trussell Trust, said:
“Ultimately, it’s unacceptable that anyone should have to use a food bank in the first place. No charity can replace the dignity of having financial security.’
As high as the figure of 823,145 food parcels distributed in a six-month period seems, it isn’t even close to the full picture, as it doesn’t account for all of the independent food banks outside of The Trussell Trust network, which number at least 800 as mapped by the Independent Food Aid Network. This brings the total estimated number of food banks in the UK to just over 2,000.
Future Shocks on the Horizon
The latest Quids In! research also shows that a growing number of people being forced to skip meals as a result of financial hardship, while pointing to a factor that may well exacerbate the issue of food poverty in the future. The Quids In! 2018 Reader's Survey found that 48% of respondents were missing meals while an even higher figure, 78% of respondents, had no savings set aside to absorb the shock of a financial crisis. At the time, only 12% of respondents to the survey were currently on Universal Credit, but as the rollout continues towards 2023, that figure will rise steeply.
The results of the another piece of research by The Trussell Trust, State of Hunger, showed that 77% of people referred to food banks were between 25 and 54 years old, and that 70% lived in rented accommodation (predominantly in social housing). This swathe of the demographic is the core audience for Quids in! magazine, with the majority of reader's being of working age and living in social housing.
Many of these reader’s stories echo that of Shirley, an ex food bank user who now volunteers at a food bank herself, who told The Trussell Trust:
‘I was thrown into an unknown world. I didn’t have any money for three months while waiting for Universal Credit. I couldn’t pay my rent and I had to work out whether to eat in the morning or the afternoon because I didn’t have enough money for the basics.’
Stories such as Shirley’s are why the focus of 2020 for Quids in! is on food poverty. As Jeff Mitchell, Editor of Quids in! explains: ‘This year, our projects Quids in! and Clean Slate Training & Employment will add the theme of food poverty to their agendas. Not being able to keep food on the table is very often the presenting face of poverty. It’s the tipping point where all of us will say ‘enough is enough’.’
Throughout the year, the focus of both the quarterly magazine and the monthly Quids In Readers Club is on looking at ways to keep food on the table on an absolutely minimal budget. The theme also extends to the Quids in! Food on a Budget guide, a standalone 32-page magazine full of the kind of crucial info to help people on low incomes guard against and tackle food insecurity.
Quids in! Food on a Budget Guide
The guide will cover everything from expert tips on keeping the household food bill down to the importance and value of cooking in bulk; from highlighting projects that are set up to fight the war on food poverty to building a ‘doomsday cupboard’ to cover the 5-week wait before receiving UC. It also delves into the knock on issues around food poverty, like the scourge of appliance poverty, which recent research by Turn2Us showed to be on a huge scale in the UK, with up to 5 million households lacking the basic means to cook or store food.
As Jeff Mitchell summarises, tackling the situation around food poverty requires both long term and short term strategies:
‘We support the crucial campaigns by the likes of The Trussell Trust aiming at the reform of Universal Credit to guard against the poverty it thrusts people into. While those campaigns continue to run and hopefully bring about real change, we also need to give people practical advice on how to survive within the system as it is, by putting food on the table even with a budget approaching zero.’
The Food on a Budget guide will be available from April, and can be pre ordered by contacting Lisa Woodman, partnerships manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.