A new paper by Dr Elisabeth Garratt, a Research Fellow in Sociology at the Centre for Social Investigation (CSI), explores the issues surrounding repeated use of foodbanks in the UK.
Whilst figures concerning the prevalence of foodbank use have been in the news before now, such figures have typically captured the number of food supplies that are distributed (calculated as the number of food parcels multiplied by the number of recipients). As people can visit food banks more than once, however, any estimation of the overall number of recipients of foodbanks has been impossible until now. Furthermore, very little is known about the number of times that people visit food banks, and whether repeat visits are more common among certain groups.
This study fills in the gaps in previous research and presents the first estimate of the scale of UK foodbank use among adults and children by examining receipt of emergency food from West Cheshire foodbank between 2013 and 2015.
The study revealed that, during this time, an estimated one per cent of the population of West Cheshire received emergency food. This proportion was consistently higher among children than adults, and showed a slight increase over the study period. Scaled up nationally, this would equate to approximately 850,000 people in Britain each year- a figure which provides the first estimate of the proportion of adults and children using food banks across the UK as a whole.
The findings showed that while only a minority of people use food banks, this still equates to a substantial number of people, and indicates severe levels of poverty in contemporary Britain. Furthermore, those using the food bank came from all 34 of the foodbank's catchment wards, demonstrating that foodbank use is not just confined to people living in the most deprived areas.
Further analyses showed that the growth in repeat visits outpaced the increase in total visits, suggesting that foodbank use is becoming more entrenched among certain groups, and that distributing emergency food is not a long-term solution to the problem of food poverty. This, along with the risks of physical and mental health problems among food insecure individuals make ensuring food security for all an urgent public health priority for both practitioners and policy-makers.
- Read the full paper online in the BMC Public Health journal (https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-017-4847-x).
- This paper follows on from an earlier CSI study into the use of food banks across West Cheshire in 2016, which represented some of the most systematic and detailed information ever presented about people receiving emergency food in the UK ever collected at the time. You can find out more about both studies on the CSI Website.
- Find out more about the author by visiting Elisabeth Garratt’s profile page.
- You can read more about research being undertaken by the Centre for Social Investigation (CSI) by visiting their website or Nuffield’s Our Research.
 Garratt, E., Spencer, A. & Ogden, C. (2016) #stillhungry: Who is hungry, for how long, and why? Chester: The Trussell Trust. You can read the report in full on the CSI website (http://csi.nuff.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/STILLHUNGRYFULLREPORT2016.pdf).