New Study: Benefit sanctions forcing people to use food banks, which “should not become an informal substitution for the social safety net.”
“Should not become an informal substitution for the social safety net” says Report.
Few things are more degrading than having to reply on food hand outs because of poverty, and specifically, as the result of having people’s benefits cut or stopped.
With benefit sanctions in the news, after the release of Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake, this is very timely.
Benefit sanctions, whereby social security claimants have their payments stopped for at least a month as a punishment for supposedly breaching strict jobcentre rules, are a key driver of hunger and food bank use, according to a study carried out by Oxford University academics.
Reports the Guardian.
The Trussell Trust, which funded the report, says today,
- University of Oxford researchers analysed four years of Trussell Trust foodbank data and found an increase in 10 Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions per 100,000 adults was associated with five more adults needing foodbanks
- In response, The Trussell Trust, which runs a network of over 420 foodbanks, calls for a true ‘yellow card’ warning system to stop people falling into crisis
Research by the University of Oxford, released today, finds a “strong, dynamic relationship” between sanctioning and food bank usage: there is a link between people having their benefit payments stopped and an increase in referrals to foodbanks.
Researchers analysing Trussell Trust foodbank data from across 259 local authorities between 2012 and 2015 found that as the rate of sanctioning increased within local authorities, the rate of foodbank use also increased.
Even after accounting for differences between local authorities, their modelling showed that for every 10 additional sanctions applied in each quarter of the year, on average five more adults would be referred to Trussell Trust foodbanks in the area. As sanctioning decreased, foodbank use also decreased, which the report suggests is evidence of a strong link between sanctioning and people not having enough money to meet basic needs.
The findings are from the first phase of a 16-month study into how trends in foodbank usage over the last four years relate to changes in the economy and welfare system. Looking across local authorities and over time using aggregated quarterly data, researchers examined whether changes in sanctioning rates within local authorities related to changes in foodbank usage.
Researchers built a longitudinal dataset of local authorities containing quarterly adult foodbank usage, data on foodbank operations, and government data on the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, the number of sanctions applied to Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, unemployment and employment rates, and population size. These models control for differences in characteristics between local authorities and time trends, ruling out other potential explanations for the relationship observed.
The report says foodbanks in The Trussell Trust network experienced a spike in numbers after 2013, when over one million sanctions were applied. Changes to the sanction regime and Jobseeker’s Allowance at this time included increasing benefit conditionality for claimants, sanctions imposed immediately for failure to meet these conditions, and longer sanctioning penalties, starting from a minimum of four weeks to up to three years*. Foodbanks distributed three times as much over the period – from just under 350,000 three-day emergency food supplies in 2012/13 to around 913,000 in 2013/14. Even after accounting for new foodbanks opening, this spike was evident across the network, says the research.
Report lead author Dr Rachel Loopstra, from the University of Oxford, said:
“These findings show clear evidence of sanctions being linked to economic hardship and hunger, as we see a close relationship between sanctioning rates and rates of foodbank usage across local authorities in the UK.’
In response to this new evidence, The Trussell Trust proposes changes to the current ‘yellow card’ warning being piloted by the Department for Work and Pensions in Scotland, and calls for the recommendations to be extended across the UK. Currently, the system in Scotland gives notice a sanction is pending and 14 days to appeal. The Trussell Trust recommend a warning system with a non-financial ‘yellow card’ penalty to first try and engage the person in a constructive dialogue without the immediate threat of financial penalty.
Adrian Curtis, Foodbank Network Director for The Trussell Trust, said today,
“The findings from this ground-breaking study by the University of Oxford tell us once and for all: the more people sanctioned, the more people need foodbanks. We now need to listen to the stories behind the statistics: families go hungry, debt spiral, and the heating doesn’t go on even as temperatures drop.
“There is much to be hopeful about – we’re very pleased to see sanctioning rates have decreased and that the new Secretary of State has announced that work capability re-assessments for ESA claimants with incurable or progressive illnesses have been scrapped. However, we still see people being referred to our foodbanks who have been sanctioned unfairly. A true ‘yellow card’ system, which gives people a non-financial warning first, would mean less people thrown into crisis and ultimately, less people needing foodbanks.”
You can see the paper here: The impact of benefit sanctioning on food insecurity: a dynamic cross-area study of food bank usage in the UK
Household food security, which may be compromised by short-term income shocks, is a key determinant of health. Since 2012, the UK witnessed marked increases in the rate of ‘sanctions’ applied to unemployment insurance claimants, which stop payments to claimants for a minimum of four weeks. In 2013, over 1 million sanctions were applied, potentially leaving people facing economic hardship and driving them to use food banks. Here we test this hypothesis by linking data from the Trussell Trust Foodbank Network with records on sanctioning rates across 259 local authorities in the UK. After accounting for local authority differences and time trends, as the rate of sanctioning increased by 10 per 100,000 adults, the rate of adults fed by foodbanks by an additional 3.36 adults per 100,000 (95% CI: 1.71 to 5.01). The availability of food distribution sites affected how tightly sanctioning and food bank usage were associated (p<0.001 for interaction term), such that in areas with few distribution sites, rising sanctions led to smaller increases in Trussell Trust food bank usage. Sanctioning appears to be closely linked with rising need for emergency food assistance, but the impact of sanctioning on food insecurity is likely not fully reflected in available data. There is a need to monitor household food insecurity in the UK to fully understand the impact of government policies on this outcome.
These are important parts of their conclusion:
The recent decline in sanctioning is a positive sign, and has likely contributed to the decline in the numbers of people using food banks within local authorities in 2015/16. Yet, in 2015, there were still about 358,000 sanctions applied to JSA claimants. We also observed that declines in sanctioning were not as strongly linked to declines in food bank usage, explaining why the decline in food bank usage has not been as fast as the decline in sanctions. This could be because experiences of sanctions trigger longer-term financial crises, such as debt accumulation.
Our findings also highlight the limitations of any charitable food support network’s ability to eradicate food insecurity. These networks are increasingly relied upon to fill in the gaps in welfare support but, by relying on volunteers and donated food and space to operate, they will vary in their capacity to address hunger in their area. As such, they are not equipped to address these gaps in every part of the country and are less able to respond quickly to changes in need. Food banks are not an adequate solution to the problem of hunger, and they should not become an informal substitution for the social safety net.
The Independent notes,
The Department for Work and Pensions dismissed the findings as “misleading”.
“The reasons for food bank use are complex, and it is misleading to link them to any one issue,” said a government spokesperson.
“We’re clear that work is the best route out of poverty, and the number of people in employment is at a record high, up by 2.7 million since 2010.”
They said £90 billion was spent on working age benefits “to ensure a strong safety net”.
One further point: