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Spike in Foodbank use for Scottish Families
According to statistics released by the Trussell Trust, more and more British households are being referred to foodbanks for essential items. Between April 2017 and March 2018, the Trust distributed 170,625 emergency food parcels in Scotland alone, and over 1.3 million to throughout the UK; an increase of 13% on the previous year.
The number of emergency food parcels distributed by the Trussell Trust has been rising year on year since 2013. Of these parcels, 36% support children. Findings from Citizens Advice also attest to the revelation that thousands are unable to afford essentials. According to the service, as many as 140,000 households regularly go without electricity when they can no longer afford to top up their meters. Another survey, carried out by the Living Wage Foundation, has also found that a third of the poorest parents have found themselves skipping meals to ensure they can afford food for their children.
The Trussell Trust is the UK’s largest foodbank network, overseeing 400 outlets throughout the country. Whilst the charity’s growth in recent years has provided millions of people with a helping hand in difficult times, the mounting need for this service is troubling. Emma Revie, Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust, warns that foodbanks should not become ingrained as a “normal” part of society. “You get up each day trying to put yourself out of business” she reported, noting that that the Trust’s approach aims to tackle the triggers behind food insecurity, as well as providing essential food items in times of crisis. “We need to move towards a UK where no one needs a foodbank’s help, not a country where charity provision is the only defence from utter destitution”, Revie said. The Trust’s director for Scotland, Tony Graham, agrees, stating that whilst foodbanks are “absolutely vital” in the current climate, they are no substitute for “the dignity of having long-term financial security”.
The Roots of the Problem
According to the Trussell Trust, the majority of people turn to foodbanks because their income is too low to cope with the cost of living. People experiencing these circumstances account for 28% of referrals. Even when a person’s income covers the essentials each month, an unexpected expense, such as a boiler repair or replacing white goods, can push a budget beyond its breaking point, leaving nothing left for food. In some cases, this shortfall results in households turning to credit, which can quickly escalate into problem debt. In fact, the Trussell Trust’s report notes that 9% of the people referred to them need help because of debt – for Scotland, this figure stands at 8%. The most common forms of debt among those receiving emergency food parcels are associated with basic living costs; housing and utility bill arrears.
Another prominent issue which appears to be leading to the increased demand is the switch to Universal Credit (UC). The Trust’s report found that 24% of all referrals could be attributed to delays and reductions to benefit payments. In areas where Universal Credit has been completely rolled out, foodbank use was found to be four times higher compared to areas where the old benefits system was still in place. In a survey examining the effects of the UK’s move to the UC system, the Trussell Trust found that only 8% of the 284 people interviewed found their payments totally covered their living costs. Delayed payments were also a prominent factor driving people towards foodbanks to plug the gap, with 35% of respondents waiting more than six weeks to receive their first payment.
A spokesperson from the Department of Work and Pensions has responded to the Trussell Trust’s findings by stating that the rise in foodbank use cannot be attributed to a single cause. They warn that the survey citied above is limited in its scope, based on “anecdotal evidence”, and not representative of the vast majority of UC cases. Nonetheless, the correlation between long waits for UC payments, the reduction in the value of benefits for many vulnerable people, and foodbank use is unmistakable.
Clearly, Revie suggests, the UC system must be altered to ensure it works for everyone: “It’s vital we get it right, and ensure levels of payment keep pace with the rising cost of essentials” she stated. The Trussell Trust recommends reducing reliance on foodbanks by increasing the value of UC payments to keep up with inflation, and launching an enquiry into the way in which the system is administrated. As well as this, the Trust suggests, more practical help could be provided for the poorest claimants – this could include making sure that payments allow for the travel expenses usually necessary to secure employment.
Coping with a low Income
Low incomes are the single biggest factor leading to foodbank use, but if you find yourself struggling on a low income, there are steps you can take to try and ease the strain. Below are some tips:
- Create a Budget
It is far easier to manage money when you know exactly what you have coming in, and what you have going out. The Money Advice Service have a useful online budgeting tool.
- Identify Areas where you could Save
This could be anything from making sure you are with the most cost-effective energy provider to cancelling a rarely-used subscription, to cutting back on a habit such as smoking. Finding areas where you can save without having to dramatically alter your lifestyle will ease the strain on your budget.
- Increase Income
First of all, check to see whether you are entitled to any benefits – this can be done with a simple online benefits checker. Alternatively, consider requesting extra hours at work, or branch out by making a little extra money online. You could sell photographs, write content, or complete paid surveys in your free time.
- Start an Emergency Fund
Having emergency savings is essential – especially when your income is unlikely to accommodate an unexpected expense. Work the fund into your budget by setting aside as much as you can each month in a separate but easily accessible bank account. Even if you can only manage to set aside a small amount, you will save money in the long run by avoiding, or at least reducing, dependency on credit in a crisis.
- Reconsider Debt
If you are struggling to keep up with your current debt payments, it is worth getting in touch with your creditors to ask if you can lower your payments, and pay off the debt over a longer period of time. Alternatively, you could consider a Debt Management Plan or Trust Deed to help you deal with problem debt.