Benefits crisis drives families to foodbanks

Foodbank pic

Increasing foodbank use down to benefit changes report finds 

21st September 2015 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Foodbank usage in Scotland is dominated by people experiencing problems with benefits, new research has found.

But these problems could be addressed if a number of measures were put in place at national and local levels to help lower income families. 

The report, Emergency Use Only, was commissioned by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, the Trussell Trust and Oxfam Scotland.

It found that between half and two thirds of users were driven to foodbanks because of benefit cuts.  

The report tells the stories of six families who accessed foodbanks in central Scotland and uses their experiences to highlight opportunities for the Scottish Government and local authorities to protect children at risk of the income crises at the heart of foodbank use.

John Dickie of CPAG in Scotland said foodbank use and “income crisis” is increasing, largely as the result of changes to the social security system implemented by the UK government. 

Coping on the margins

Donna and Robbie, who have three children, said they were both looking for work and visited the foodbank because an interruption to their benefit meant their income was cut to just £48.10-a-week. 

Donna explained that her mental health problems made maintaining work difficult. 

She said: "I had post-natal depression with my first baby. And then I just sink back into it but just now is the worst I have ever been. 

"Everything that is getting flung at us is making it even worse. It is making me think things I should not be thinking. My biggest fear is that I might want to go to the doctor and tell him how I feel. 

"The fear is they are going to say take the children away from me because they think I'm losing it."

But regardless of what is triggering the income crisis, local authorities, the Scottish Government and employers have a real opportunity to do more to protect the health and wellbeing of children and families.

He added: “They can all do more to poverty proof services, improve access to affordable transport, support struggling employees and ensure all families get the benefits and tax credits they are entitled to.

“We urge the Scottish Government, local authorities and employers to listen to the often distressing stories told in this report and take a harder look at what could be done here and now to help hard-pressed families in the face of a failing UK social security system."

The report makes a series of recommendations including ensuring that affordable, reliable transport is available locally; removing financial barriers to local services such as schools and health services; and facilitating access to emergency financial support like crisis grants.

It also calls for future social security powers to be devolved to Scotland to boost family income.

The most recent figures from the Trussell Trust show that in 2014/15, 117,689 people, including 36,114 children, were provided with three days emergency food by its foodbanks.

Ewan Gurr, from the trust, said: “It is hard to pinpoint a time when it has been as difficult for individuals to secure sustainable employment and a reasonable income and, for families, to provide a secure environment within which to raise children.

“These are the voices that need to be heard in our political discourse.”

Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “In rich Scotland, no-one should be going hungry. Too often we focus on statistics but this report, produced by CPAG in Scotland, builds on UK-wide research and underlines the severe personal impact on individuals and their families.

“We must do more to fulfil peoples’ right to food, and all levels of government must examine what more they can do to reduce the need for foodbanks in Scotland.”