A report published last week by the Trussell Trust reveals a record 2.5 million food parcels were distributed by their network of food banks in the past year.
The figure represents a 33% increase on the previous year, including a disproportionately large increase in the number of parcels distributed to children. Compared to this time five years ago, Trussell’s food banks have experienced a 128% increase in need. These figures equate to 3 parcels a minute being distributed across the country to adults, and nearly 2 every minute distributed to children.
These figures only account for the network of food banks run by the Trust – so the actual figure relying on food bank parcels is likely far higher even than these figures suggest.
Given the past year, it’s not unexpected that these figures to show an increase. But even after a year of witnessing increasing financial hardship caused by the pandemic, these statistics make for distressing reading. Even as the economy and society begin to reopen after the third lockdown, many families have had their financial resilience shattered by the pandemic, causing increased food bank use and driving many into unavoidable debt, just to keep afloat. As the findings state, ‘Hunger in the UK isn’t about food. It’s about a lack of income.’
The Trussell Trust note in their report that the ongoing crisis has forced many to take on additional or new debt, meaning that the pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on people’s ability to afford essentials. That means that even as the economy begins to recover, some families will still be trapped in a cycle of debt and financial insecurity, which may keep food poverty levels in the UK at a higher rate.
The Trussell Trust indicate that there are three main driving factors of increased food bank use:
- Problems with the benefits system, including delays (the mandatory five week waiting time for new Universal Credit claims), inadequacy, and reductions. This is compounded by a recent report showing that more than 30% of new benefits claimants during the pandemic reported falling behind with bills and debt payments, and that one in six were forced to skip meals.
- Challenging life experiences and ill-health
- Lack of formal or informal support – including access to debt advice services
As society begins to open up after the third lockdown, many of us are taking advantage of increasing freedoms to eat, drink, and socialise outside. But for many in the UK, food insecurity and being trapped in a cycle of debt will mean that it is difficult to engage with a reopening economy.
Levels of debt and food insecurity in the UK have been driven up to an extraordinary level during the pandemic. It’s not enough to reopen the economy to solve these issues: they are longer term, more complex, and ultimately just too big to manage through the roadmap out of lockdown and pre-exiting debt advice and insolvency services. It’s time to give families weighed down by unavoidable debt during the pandemic a fresh start: it’s time to reset the debt.