By Joe Farnworth-Mayers, Policy Officer (Local) at The Trussell Trust
Unexpected costs happen in our lives – whether it’s a boiler packing up or facing a larger than usual energy bill. These costs, while inconvenient, should never mean people find their only option is to turn to a food bank for support. Yet sadly, for too many people, this is the case.
Our recent Hunger in the UK research found that the majority (53%) of people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network have had to meet a large and unexpected cost that they had difficulty paying in the previous three months. The research also showed that the overwhelming majority of people at food banks have been forced to seek help as a last resort having exhausted all other avenues. They are likely to have multiple forms of debt, run down whatever limited savings they may have had, and exhausted all options from family and friends.
At its root cause is a social security system which doesn’t provide people with sufficient support to afford the essentials. But we also know that the impact of these unexpected costs is magnified further when people do not have help to turn to locally. There is a clear and valuable role for discretionary crisis support schemes delivered by local authorities which can provide immediate support to people when they need it most.
We’ve seen first-hand the impact such support can provide. In partnership with Leeds City Council, the Trussell Trust commissioned an evaluation into a cash grant pilot scheme, which provided grants to people in financial hardship in Leeds in place of emergency food parcels so they could pay for the essentials they needed most. It found that this approach improved people’s immediate financial situation and reduced the need to turn to a food bank in the short term. The approach was also considered more dignified by those receiving the grants.
The UK Government has provided nearly £2bn in funding to local authorities through the Household Support Fund (HSF) since October 2021, which we strongly welcome. Yet despite this investment, the provision of effective local crisis support in England is still patchy at best. There have been multiple spending constraints in each round of funding, ranging from limiting support to pensioners and children, through to the type of essentials it should be spent on. Local authorities have also had to pull together spending plans at very short notice, without being able to put in place the people, the promotion and the application processes required to support local people in need.
The HSF is a positive first step, but for it to enable local authorities to support people facing hardship and build longer-term financial resilience within communities, it needs to have a longer-term strategy.
The Trussell Trust is proud to be part of a coalition of nonprofits – including GMPA – across the UK who are calling for this long-term strategy. Ahead of the Autumn statement, we will be calling for the Government to commit to a long-term strategy for local crisis support in England, which includes a multi-year settlement of funding, a clear outcomes framework for such support, and improved monitoring and evaluation of local schemes.
To explore this further, the APPG Ending the Need for Food Banks and Local Government Association are hosting a panel discussion on Wednesday 13 September on the future of the Household Support Fund. Register here.
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