Report Links Rising Use of Foodbanks in UK With Austerity

The number of foodbanks in the UK has risen dramatically over the last parliament
The number of foodbanks in the UK has risen dramatically over the last parliament Vancouver foodbank

The chairman of the biggest foodbank charity in the UK has blamed the rising use of foodbanks on the poorest in society having to bear the brunt of austerity.

The comments follow the release of a report in the British Medical Journal that links cuts to public spending and welfare with a rise in the number of food banks.

In the recent televised election debates prime minister David Cameron said the rising use of foodbanks was linked to job centres advertising their availability, and admitted that he didn't know how many there were in the country.

The Trussell Trust, which coordinates the largest network of food banks in Britain, estimates more than 900,000 people were given three-day emergency food support from their food banks in 2013 alone. In the latest available figures, the trust says around 500,000 support packages were given out in the first half of 2014.

Academics from the University of Oxford published a paper yesterday showing that areas with greater cuts to welfare and local spending - the result of austerity measures implemented by the government since 2010 - were more likely to see food banks opening up.

The chairman of the Trussell Trust, Christopher Mould, says the rise in requests for emergency food packages are a consequence of austerity, and rising living costs amid squeezed incomes.

"The fact is that in the UK more so than in some other countries in the European Union, the problems of austerity have fallen heavily on people on low incomes," he says.

"That's people in work as well as people who are out of work. So although it's good news we have lower unemployment relative to other nations there are very serious issues about low pay and the affordability of minimum living standards."

However, he adds that he is pleased to see so many of his trust's foodbanks opening up in areas where there are people in need.

"It means we are at least getting help into the places where it's needed. It says something about the resilience of communities and how extraordinarily willing they are, even if they're in trouble themselves, to help other people."

Using information from the Trussell Trust's database of foodbanks along with budgetary and socioeconomic data such as employment figures in 375 local authorities in the UK, a team from the department of sociology at Oxford University found that areas that didn't experience cuts to local authority spending in the past two years had a 14.5% likelihood of a foodbank opening. That figure was tripled for an area that experienced a budget cut of 3% of spending in both years.

The authors warn the burden of food security in the UK has most likely been underestimated, and they call for action on "the root social and economic factors that trigger reliance on foodbanks."

The use of foodbanks could be a feature of political party pitches to British voters in the run-up to the general election in May. In particular, Labour have pointed to the rising use of foodbanks as what they say is the "chaos of food policy" under the Conservative-led coalition government.

Christopher Mould says: "We are very clear that we want all politicians irrespective of their party to take poverty seriously, and to prioritise policies that will reduce the level of poverty and the numbers of people who find themselves in crisis. We would like to see a nation where far fewer people struggle to make ends meet."