New report shows families with children are most likely to need foodbanks

By agency reporter
March 23, 2018

Analysis published today (23 March 2018) by the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Sheffield sheds new light on the type of families using foodbanks in The Trussell Trust’s network, and highlights that families with dependent children are more likely than other family types to use foodbanks.

Seventy per cent of families at foodbanks have dependent children, compared to just 42 per cent in the general UK population. Single parent households are particularly at risk of needing a foodbank – they are almost two times more prevalent among households at foodbanks compared to the general population.

Over 80 per cent of families with children at foodbanks were classed as severely food insecure (meaning they had skipped meals and gone without eating, sometimes for days at a time) in the past 12 months because of a lack of money. It is known that severe experiences of food insecurity underlie foodbank use, and this was clearly the case for families with children.

Despite 31 per cent of couple families and 21 per cent of single parent families including a working adult (compared to 15 per cent of households at foodbanks), employment did not adequately protect households from needing a foodbank.

The equivalised average household income for families with an adult in work was just £419 for the month before needing a foodbank, and while this is significantly higher than the figure for families without work (£277), this is well below the low-income threshold for the UK (£1050 a month after housing costs).

There were clear differences in the issues affecting single parent and couple families. Although both single parent and couple families reported experiencing rising or unexpected costs in the past three months, single parents at foodbanks were most likely to report rising costs of food and housing as issues, whilst couple parents were more likely to be facing a double burden of childcare and ill-health. For 80 per cent of couple families, at least one family member had a health condition and common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety affected 40 per cent.

The incomes of all families with children at foodbanks were well below the Minimum Income Standards (MIS  – the income level based on what members of the public think people need to achieve a socially acceptable living standard.) set for the UK in April 2017. For couple families with two children (MIS: £2,056), 65 per cent received less than £500 in the past month whilst 96 per cent received less than £1000. For single parent families with one child (MIS: £1338), 76 per cent received less than £500 in the past month whilst 97 per cent received less than £1000.

Dr Rachel Loopstra, the lead author of the report and Lecturer in Nutrition at King’s College London, said, “Our findings draw urgent attention to the severe food insecurity and poverty experienced by families with children who are receiving help from foodbanks. Low-income families with children have experienced significant reductions in welfare entitlements in recent years, and entitlements will be reduced further for low-income families given changes to Child Tax Credits and the ongoing benefit freeze in the context of rising living costs.

“If financial support is not increased for low-income families with children, it is likely more children and their parents will need to use foodbanks in the years to come. Annual measurement of food insecurity in a national survey is needed to monitor vulnerability to this serious problem among households with children.”

Emma Revie, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, said, “As a nation we value justice and compassion, particularly for our children. But this research shows families across Britain are locked in poverty, with income so low they are unable even to afford to put food on their children’s plates. These findings are particularly concerning when we are braced for further real-terms reductions in the very working age benefits that should be protecting these families and children from poverty and hunger in the first place.

“Our network of foodbanks will continue to ensure food and support is given to families facing hunger right now. But we are also calling on Government to unfreeze working age benefits. There should be no higher priority than ensuring all UK families can afford to put food on the table when their children are hungry.”

The Trussell Trust is asking policy-makers to ensure better support for families is in place by:

  • Unfreezing and uprating in line with inflation rates of child benefits, both for the Child Element in Universal Credit and for Child Tax Credits under the legacy benefits system, in addition to suspending the benefit cap for parents of children aged 0-2.
  • Ensuring work pays for parents under Universal Credit. The work allowance for parents should be increased to its pre-April 2016 level to allow families to keep more of their earnings before Universal Credit payments are reduced. Single parents with pre-school children or more than two children should not be subject to job-searching requirements or sanctions.
  • Ensuring all families in need of free school meals are able to access them. The Department for Education has recently decided to place a threshold of £7,400 per household for eligibility to free school meals on Universal Credit. A higher threshold, such as the £14,000 threshold set in Northern Ireland, could help prevent further pressure on low income families.

* Read Family Hunger in Times of Austerity: Families Using Foodbanks Across Britain here

* Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute

* The Trussell Trust


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