Benefit sanctions account for nearly half of all Foodbank referrals

Almost half of all referrals to a foodbank is the result of problems with the benefit system, while low, insecure income and debt drives almost a third of claimants to the emergency food parcels.

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The research, by the University of Chester and a group of charities in the Chester area, examined more than 1,700 referrals made during May and November last year. While the data relates to West Cheshire, the findings are replicated in other foodbanks across the country.

The researchers worked with advice services in the region to devise a coding system to fully analyse the reasons why people turned to the Trussell Trust’s foodbank vouchers.

The report’s findings mirrored Trussell Trust’s statistics but provide more detail about why people required food.

Significant numbers of foodbank visitors faced problems with social security payments (including protracted administrative delays, sanctions and ESA stoppages); and lengthy crises due to low income and debt, usually as a result of prohibitive housing costs and utility bills.


Alec Spencer, who co-authored the report, said: “The findings have contributed to the wider discourse of food poverty but we recognise that it is important, both locally and nationally, to examine the drivers of emergency food provision.

“This will ensure that interventions can be shaped intelligently and responsibly by governments, local authorities and the third sector in order to reduce hunger in the future.”

The research revealed the extent of the growth in West Cheshire over the past two years, something that has been seen by the growth of foodbanks in the Thames Valley. Of those receiving emergency food, a third were children and the research revealed that there was a strong positive correlation between the deprivation of a ward and the number of foodbank referrals.

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Problems with benefits directly accounted for almost half (47%) of the referrals to West Cheshire Foodbank.

– Administrative and other delays accounted for 23% of referrals and typically lasted between 1 and 4 weeks.

– Sanctions accounted for 11% of referrals and usually placed households in a crisis situation for between 1 and 13 weeks.

– Benefit Changes accounted for 9% of referrals and typically lasted between 1 and 4 weeks.

– ESA stoppages accounted for (4% of referrals and typically lasted between 2 and 13 weeks.

Issues relating to low, insecure income and debt were also hugely significant reasons why people accessed emergency food provision (31%).

Low, insecure incomes accounted for 20% of referrals and typically lasted between 1 and 4 weeks.

A significant number (12%) of crises endured for considerable periods of time however, with low income households unable to afford sufficient food for 13 to 26 weeks.

Debt accounted for 11% of referrals and the immediate crisis was estimated to last for between 1 and 4 weeks.

The Revd Christine Jones, chair of trustees at West Cheshire Foodbank, said: “Behind these statistics are real people who are struggling – people such as Scott, who was unable to work due to a knee operation but didn’t score enough points to receive Employment and Support Allowance.

“Whatever the reason for emergency food use, any hunger is unacceptable and we are concerned that there is a level of need which is being systematically ignored. We are calling on the government to publicly accept that food poverty is a growing problem and to take responsibility for protecting the poorest people in society. “

The report’s findings have been echoed by Malcolm Peirce, director of ReadiFood, Reading’s foodbank.

He said: “[The report’s information] about benefit delays and sanctions are very well documented as significant causes of referrals to food banks.

“Mention should also be made of general poverty due to zero and low hours contracts, minimum wage, etc. which is ensuring that we have more poor people in the country than has been the case for many years.

“People simply can’t make ends meet.”

To read the full report, log on to West Cheshire Foodbank’s website (PDF file)

For more details on ReadiFood or to offer help, log on to its website. 

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