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UK food bank use set to grow amid rising living costs and dwindling welfare, study finds

Key Points
  • Four in five U.K. food bank uses go hungry several times a year.
  • Half struggle to pay bills or buy essentials.
  • Number of users set to rise amid rising living costs and welfare cuts.
Cans of food at the Thamesmead food bank in London.
Source: Matt Clinch

Dwindling welfare payments and rising living costs mean that more and more people could find themselves reaching out to food banks in coming years, according to a new report from Oxford University.

The research, the largest ever study of food bank use, found that four-fifths (78 percent) of food bank users in the U.K. find themselves going hungry multiple times a year, while half (50 percent) are unable to pay for heating and other essentials like toilet roll.

Three in five of the more than 400 households surveyed said that rising or unexpected expenses had led them to visit one of the U.K.'s thousands of food banks over the past year. For a quarter this was down to increasing food prices while for a further 28 percent this was driven by higher rents and living costs, which have all been driven up by rising inflation.

According to the study, commissioned by the Trussell Trust which runs a network of over 420 food banks in the U.K., this number is set to rise further if governments continue to roll out welfare changes and benefit cuts. Last year, Trussell Trust provided 1.2 million emergency food supplies to people in crisis.

"We observed how commonly income or expenditure shocks, whether arising from a delay in receiving a benefit payment, from a benefit sanction, or from rising energy costs, tipped households into food bank use," added Dr Rachel Loopstra, who led the research.

The disabled and those in ill health are particularly at risk of growing reliant on food banks, according to the report. Of the food bank-dependent households studied, 50 percent were home to at least one disabled person and 75 percent were home to someone in ill health. One third were home to a person with a mental health condition.

"This pioneering research confirms to us what those volunteers have been telling us: Every day they are meeting people trying to cope with low, insecure incomes and rising prices that mean even the smallest unexpected expense can leave them destitute and hungry – be that an unexpected bill, bereavement or the loss of income caused by benefit delay," said David McAuley, chief executive of The Trussell Trust.

"Particularly concerning are the very high numbers of disabled people or people with mental health problems needing food banks."

The report has called for an inquiry into the adequacy of benefits and support for disabled people and those in ill health, as well as indexing government benefits in line with the rising cost of living.