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'Locked in extreme poverty': Christian charity finds households using food banks live on £50 a week

Commissioned by the Trussell Trust and conducted by Heriot-Watt University, State of Hunger 2019 researches hunger in the UK. It reveals the average weekly income of people at food banks is only £50 after paying rent and almost one in five have no money coming in at all in the month before being referred for emergency food.

The research also found 94 per cent of people at food banks are destitute and almost three-quarters of people at food banks live in households affected by ill health or disability. 22 per cent of people at food banks are single parents - compared to 5 per cent in the UK population. More than three-quarters of people referred to food banks were in arrears.

This first annual report of a three-year research project shows the main drivers for people finding themselves in poverty and facing hunger; the benefits system, ill health and challenging life experiences, and a lack of local support.

The most common source of income for people at food banks is the benefits system. Problems with benefits are widespread, affecting two-thirds of people at food banks in the last year.

Abby Jitendra, policy and research manager from the Trussell Trust told Premier what they are calling on the government to do: "We are calling on the government, primarily to make a change and we're asking for Universal Credit, which is the government's flagship welfare reform to be fixed, and in fact, become a poverty fighting machine.

"The first way to do that is to end the five week wait for Universal Credit, where every person who goes on to Universal Credit has to wait at least five weeks before they get any money. The second is that we need to make sure that benefits cover the cost of living.

"We know that we've had various cuts and freezes to benefits over the years and we need to make sure that people can afford at least the basics like food. We need that to be a local crisis safety net. So people have somewhere to go that isn't just a food bank."

The majority of people referred to food banks also experienced a challenging life event, such as an eviction or household breakdown, in the year prior to using the food bank. Such events may increase living costs and make it harder to maintain paid work or to successfully claim benefits, the research has shown.

Trussell Trust's Chief Executive Emma Revie said: "People are being locked into extreme poverty and pushed to the doors of food banks. Hunger in the UK isn't about food - it's about people not having enough money. People are trying to get by on £50 a week and that's just not enough for the essentials, let alone a decent standard of living.

"Any of us could be hit by a health issue or job loss - the difference is what happens when that hits. We created a benefits system because we're a country that believes in making sure financial support is there for each other if it's needed. The question that naturally arises, then, is why the incomes of people at food banks are so low, despite being supported by that benefits system?

"Many of us are being left without enough money to cover the most basic costs. We cannot let this continue in our country. This can change - our benefits system could be the key to unlocking people from poverty if our government steps up and makes the changes needed. How we treat each other when life is hard speaks volumes about us as a nation."

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