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Benefits Call as Foodbank Use Rises

Tuesday April 24 2018

Foodbanks charity the Trussell Trust has called for benefits to keep pace with the cost of living, after releasing new figures showed that a growing proportion of users were due to benefit levels not covering the costs of essentials.

In its report for the year to March 31 2018, the Trussell Trust said that its Scottish foodbanks distributed 170,625 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, a 17% increase on the previous year. 55,038 of these went to children.

This is a higher increase than the previous financial year, when foodbank use in Scotland was up by 9%, and is higher than the UK-wide average increase this year of 13%.

It also said that ‘low income – benefits, not earning’ is the biggest single, and fastest growing, reason for referral to a foodbank, with ‘low income’ accounting for 28% of referrals country-wide compared to 22% in the previous year.

The other main primary referral reasons in 2017-18 were benefit delays (22%) and benefit changes (18%).

Debt accounted for an increasing percentage of referrals - 8% up from 7% of referrals in the past year - and the charity says the statistics show the essential costs of housing and utility bills are increasingly driving foodbank referrals for this reason, with the proportion of referrals due to housing debt and utility bill debt increasing significantly since April 2016.

The Trussell Trust is also highlighting the impact of Universal Credit, the replacement for working-age benefits, which it has previously blamed for a spike in foodbank use in the areas where it has been rolled out

The release of the figures is accompanied by the publication of a new report into Universal Credit and foodbank use. The findings, from a survey of 284 people on Universal Credit referred to foodbanks, highlight the initial wait, the lack of available statutory support, the inability of Universal Credit payments to cover the cost of living for people who need it most, and poor administration.

The charity is calling for benefit levels to be uprated in line with inflation to ensure payments keep pace with the cost of living, particularly for disabled people and families with dependent children who are particularly at risk of needing a foodbank, and for a requirement to be placed upon Local Authorities to deliver a true Universal Support service to everyone who starts a Universal Credit claim. It is also asking for an urgent inquiry into poor administration within Universal Credit, so errors such as incorrect payments along with poor communication issues can be tackled.

Tony Graham, Director of Scotland at the Trussell Trust, said: “In Scotland we expect no one should be left hungry or destitute – illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job could happen to any of us, and we owe it to each other to make sure sufficient financial support is in place when we need it most.

“Foodbanks are providing absolutely vital, compassionate support in communities across our country, but no charity can replace the dignity of having long-term financial security. It’s completely unacceptable that anyone is forced to turn to a foodbank in Scotland, and we’ll continue to campaign for systemic change until everyone has enough money coming in to keep pace with the rising cost of essentials like food and housing.

“Universal Credit is the future of our benefits system. It’s vital we get it right and ensure levels of payment protect everyone needing its support, particularly groups of people we know are already more likely to need a foodbank - disabled people, people dealing with an illness, families with children and single parents. This, along with a Good Food Nation Bill that addresses hunger and destitution, can ensure Scotland leads the way in ending the need for foodbanks.”

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