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Rise in food banks linked to cuts in welfare spending

There is ‘clear evidence’ that food banks are opening in areas experiencing greater cuts in spending on local services and central welfare benefits and higher unemployment rates, an academic study has concluded. 

The Oxford University research shows emergency food aid is most concentrated in areas where there are high levels of joblessness and benefit sanctions. 

For example, it estimates that the likelihood of a food bank opening in an area that did not experience a cut in local authority spending in either of the past two years was 14.5%. This figure tripled to 52% for a local authority that experienced a budget cut of 3% in spending in both years. 

They also found that greater central government welfare cuts, sanctioning, and unemployment rates were significantly associated with higher rates of food parcel distribution after accounting for the capacity of food banks to provide food. For example, each 1% cut in spending on central welfare benefits was associated with a 0.16 percentage point rise in food parcel distribution.

Professor David Stuckler of Oxford University's sociology department, a senior author of the report, said: “We found clear evidence that areas of the UK facing greater unemployment, sanctions and budget cuts have significantly greater rates of people seeking emergency food aid. 

“This pattern is consistent even after adjusting for the possibility that some areas have greater capacity to give support than others.” 

The report, published in the British Medical Journal, looked at Trussell Trust data that showed a rise in the number of food banks opened by the Christian charity from 29 in 2009-10 to 251 in 2013-14. The latter year saw it supply food parcels to 913,138 children and adults. 

They linked information on the Trussell Trust’s food bank operations to budgetary and socioeconomic data from 375 UK local authorities from 2006-07 to 2013-14. 

Although the researchers acknowledge that data is not always easy to obtain, they call for further research into other factors that may influence emergency food aid. They add: “We have likely underestimated the true burden of food insecurity in the UK.” 

But a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The government spends £94bn a year on working-age benefits and provides a wide range of advice and assistance for anyone in need of additional support. 

“The vast majority of benefits are processed on time with improvements being made year on year and the number of sanctions has actually gone down.” 

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