For many people in the UK, the smallest change in income can mean the difference between being the able to afford the food shop and going hungry that week. According to food bank charity the Trussell Trust, more than a million emergency three-day food supplies were given out across the UK last year—an increase of 2 percent on the year before.
Now, a study from the University of Oxford into the causes of food bank use has found a significant link between benefit sanctions and referrals for emergency food supplies. These sanctions occur when a claimant breaches job-seeking rules—like not attending a job centre meeting—and results in benefit payments being reduced or taken away entirely for a fixed amount of time.
The report, published today in Sociology Working Papers journal, analysed food bank data provided by the Trussell Trust in 259 local authorities from 2012 and 2015. It concluded that "as the rate of sanctioning increased within local authorities, the rate of food bank use also increased."
Based on emerging trends in the paper, researchers calculated that five more adults are referred to food banks for every ten additional benefit sanctions applied in each financial quarter. The results also showed that when sanctions decrease, so too does food bank use.
A report released earlier this year by the Trussell Trust into food bank referrals also showed that changes in benefit payments were among the top reasons people gave for using food banks.
In a press statement, Adrian Curtis, food bank network director for the Trussell Trust, called the Oxford study "groundbreaking." He added that there was some hope for those relying on food banks, as the number of sanctions applied to benefits has decreased since 2000.
He said: "We're very pleased to see sanctioning rates have decreased and that the new Secretary of State has announced that work capability re-assessments for ESA claimants with incurable or progressive illnesses have been scrapped. However, we still see people being referred to our food banks who have been sanctioned unfairly."
But with food bank use still at a record high and some parents even going without so that their children can eat, this may be little cause for celebration.