The numbers of people in poverty and relying on food banks are likely to increase rapidly once COVID-19 employment support schemes are wound down, the largest food bank network in the UK has warned.
As a result of the economic disruption caused by the pandemic, the analysis from the Trussell Trust, published on Sept. 14, estimates that “670,000 extra people will be classed as destitute” by the end of 2020 due to the scale of mass unemployment.
Destitution, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an anti-poverty nonprofit, means going without the bare essentials — including food, shelter, hygiene products, clothing, or electricity. Specifically, it means lacking two of those over a 1-month period because of low income.
Following the end of the government’s jobs retention programme — known as the furlough scheme — on Oct. 31, the charity predicts a 61% rise in people needing food bank parcels across their network, a key indicator of destitution.
The job retention scheme covered 80% of the salaries of people who are potentially at risk of being laid off, so their employer can keep them on payroll while business has suffered.
The research analysed the impact of the pandemic on food bank usage based on the Trussell Trust’s own data, while future use was estimated by academics from Heriot-Watt University and the National Institute of Social and Economic Research.
Did you see our new research yesterday with @ISPHERE_HWU and @NIESRorg? #Foodbanks in our network are forecast to give out six emergency food parcels a minute this winter – we need change now to protect people from being pushed into poverty > https://t.co/4meXtWA2Pxpic.twitter.com/qzTuCBda9I— The Trussell Trust (@TrussellTrust) September 15, 2020
Over half (52%) of households that needed to use a Trussell Trust food bank during April were using one for the first ever time, their research showed. That represents 99,300 new households verging on the definition of destitution that used a food bank that month.
"Our research finds that COVID-19 has led to tens of thousands of new people needing to use a food bank for the first time,” said Emma Revie, the chief executive of the Trussell Trust.
“This is not right. If we don’t take action now, there will be further catastrophic rises in poverty in the future,” she added.
Families with children should be prioritised going forward, the charity says, because the data showed a 95% increase in food parcels given out to households with children in April 2020, compared with the same month in 2019.
That’s compared to a 41% increase in single people receiving food bank support, and a 79% rise among couples without children.
The COVID-19 lockdown sparked a hunger crisis in the UK, especially among families, Global Citizen reported in April.
Children who normally had access to vouchers for free meals at school found themselves without food when schools began to shut, while many people were suddenly left without income while waiting for welfare payments to come through.
Footballer Marcus Rashford then successfully campaigned for more support for families with children in lockdown — and on Sep. 1, he launched a child food poverty task force to further pressure the government to get to grips with the issue.
Revie, from the Trussell Trust, says that the Autumn budget, expected to be delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak during October, is an opportunity to “put in place protections” so that there isn’t a sudden increase in people needing emergency food.
The organisation recommends that the temporary £20 per week rise in universal credit payments brought in at the start of the pandemic is continued — because withdrawing it now will leave millions of people £1,040 a year worse off.
It also recommends that benefit debt deductions are stalled — when people have to pay back benefits that were overpaid to them — “until a fairer system” is in place. The report also insisted that local councils are boosted by a £250 million investment to deliver local welfare assistance.
In response to the Trussell Trust’s calls for actions, a spokesperson for the government said in a statement to the Guardian: “We have provided £9.3 billion extra welfare support to help those most in need… Meanwhile, since mid-March we’ve supported 3.9 million claims to universal credit, and made 1.3 million advance payments to people who could not wait.”