This guest blog by Grace Wyld, who works in the Trussell Trust’s Policy Research team, discusses the cost of living crisis, putting data at the heart of their mission, and the addition of the Trussell Trust’s data on emergency food parcels to NPC’s Local needs databank.

In recent weeks we have been encouraged by politicians to cut back on luxuries and shop around for cheaper supermarket staples. But for people already struggling to afford the essentials, there is simply nothing left to cut and food banks across the UK are picking up the pieces.

As the cost of living crisis deepens, we are really pleased to be adding the Trussell Trust’s food parcel data to NPC’s Local needs databank—the tool that is bringing charity data together to help us better understand the changing picture of inequality across the UK.

Cutting through the complexity of inflation figures and global supply chain issues, data from charities such as the Trussell Trust provides a stark reminder of the impact of rising costs on people on the lowest incomes.

There are over 1,300 food bank centres in the Trussell Trust network across the UK who, between them, distributed over 2.1 million emergency food parcels from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022. These statistics represent an extraordinary 81% increase in food parcels distributed by the network compared to this time five years ago. Alarmingly, 832,000 of these parcels went to children. (You can find out more about our end of year stats by reading this data briefing, and for more on the experiences of people supported by food banks in the network please read this stories report.)

We are joining the Local needs databank because we recognise the power of data in helping us decide where we should focus our attention. For instance, our food parcel data was used in our State of Hunger research to evidence the relationship between government policy and need for food banks in our network. By looking at changes over time at a local authority level we were able to model that, in a typical local authority:

  • 100 more benefit sanctions would be associated with an increase of 24 more food parcels distributed.
  • A one percentage point increase in the number of working age people on benefits would have led to 291 fewer food parcels distributed. (For more, see State of Hunger, p.85-86).

And we are excited to see what more we can now do in collaboration with NPC. We already know that a lack of formal and informal support is one of the drivers of food bank use. Is there also a relationship between the local authorities distributing the highest numbers of food parcels, and the local authorities with the fewest charities in relation to the population?

The role of charities and government in the cost of living crisis

Whilst charities such as the food banks in the Trussell Trust network will do everything they can to support people facing financial hardship, they cannot and should not be expected to pick up the pieces for the UK government and an increasingly threadbare social security system.

People referred to food banks in our network have, on average, just £57 a week to live on after housing costs. One food bank manager recently told us:

Many people are now asking us for items in the food parcels that take less time to cook or can be cooked in the microwave in order to reduce energy costs. People can’t afford to cook a proper meal, even when we provide the food!

Esther Hurwood, Project Manager, Swale Foodbank

There’s still time for the UK government to right this wrong and use their powers to ensure no one’s income becomes so dangerously low that they cannot afford life’s essentials. In the short term, that means urgently increasing benefit payments in line with inflation. In the longer term, they must introduce a commitment in the benefits system to make sure everyone has enough money in their pockets to prevent them from falling into destitution.

To learn more about the cost of living crisis and the role of charities within in, you can sign up to NPC’s 6 June event where you will hear from Sumi Rabindrakumar, Head of Policy and Research at the Trussell Trust, and Molly Broome, Economist at the Resolution Foundation.

Putting data at the heart of our mission

These circumstances are why data-driven initiatives such as the Local needs databank are so important. We hope the addition of the Trussell Trust’s data, alongside official statistics on multiple deprivation, age, health, ethnicity and Covid-19, as well as data provided by Turn2us, Buttle UK, and British Gas Energy Trust, can help us, other charities, funders and policymakers better target their support for communities in need during the cost of living crisis and beyond.

The Trussell Trust’s mission is to end the need for food banks in the UK, and the stats being added to NPC’s databank today are a sobering reminder of just how steep a hill there is to climb.

However, it is also through data that we can better equip ourselves, food banks, organisers, and campaigners—many of whom have their own experience of turning to a food bank in a time of crisis—to meet the challenges we face. Through open data and innovative tools like the Local needs databank, we can gain a greater understanding of where needs are most acute across the UK and what we need to do to achieve our mission. We aren’t going to end the need for food banks through data alone, but we certainly can’t get there without it.

You can explore the data here. We would love to hear from you if you use this data in your work: please contact Grace Wyld on grace.wyld@trusselltrust.org. If you want to learn more about open data and the process for getting your data on the Local needs databank, or if you would like to hear more about how to use the databank in support of your work, please contact NPC’s Jasmine Birmingham on Jasmine.Birmingham@thinkNPC.org.

The Trussell Trust are adding their data to @NPCthinks’ Local needs databank. As the cost of living crisis deepens, learn more about putting data at the heart of your mission: Click To Tweet

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