The road to the food bank is paved by failures in the safety net

Post date: 
19 November 2014

“It seems to be, maybe towards the end of the month, on odd occasions something has gone wrong that we have had to spend some money… and you think “Oh great, we haven’t got enough to go and buy our food this month”. Heidi, London

Visiting a food bank should be a last resort: we all hope that if times get hard, the safety net is there to make sure we aren’t left without the means to buy food for ourselves or our family. Yet new research from the Child Poverty Action Group, Oxfam, Church of England and the Trussell Trust has found that failures in the social safety net itself are often the trigger for food bank referrals.

The report finds that, while money is tight for many reasons, including bereavement, relationship breakdown, illness or job loss, issues such as sanctions, delays in benefits decisions or payments or being declared ‘fit for work’ led people to turn to food banks for support.

  • Around a third of foodbank users in the sample were waiting for a decision on their benefits – and struggling in the meantime
  • Between 20 and 30% had their household benefits reduced or stopped because of a sanction

Other factors included loss of income due to the ‘bedroom tax’ or the benefit cap.

The research used 40 in-depth interviews with food bank users, data from over 900 users at three food banks around the country, and detailed analysis of nearly 200 clients accessing one food bank in Tower Hamlets.

“My benefits all stopped because I didn’t put down the right job history... That’s what’s put me behind on everything, so that’s why the foodbank has been a godsend:... it can’t get no worse than this, it physically can’t”.