Please sir, I want some more: an exploration of repeat foodbank use
Posted: 21 Nov 2017

Elizabeth Garratt's new article in BMC Public Health Please sir, I want some more: an exploration of repeat foodbank use explores the sharp rise in foodbank use in Britain.

• What is new about the study?
Headline figures about the prevalence of foodbank use from the Trussell Trust capture the number of food supplies that are distributed (calculated as the number of food parcels multiplied by the number of recipients) but because people can visit food banks more than once, the overall number of recipients is unknown. This means that no estimate of the proportion of the population who use food banks is possible. Furthermore, almost nothing is known about the number of times that people visit food banks, and whether repeat visits are more common among certain groups. This work presents the first attempt to estimate 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 results showed that an estimated one per cent of the population of West Cheshire received emergency food between 2013 and 2015. This proportion was consistently higher among children than adults, and increased slightly over the study period. If this estimate is scaled up nationally, it would equate to approximately 850,000 people in Britain each year.
Detailed analyses revealed that the growth in repeat visits outpaced the increase in total visits, suggesting that foodbank use is becoming more entrenched among certain groups. Repeat visits were more common among working-age and one-person households.
• Is there anything surprising about the results?
Households seeing assistance due to domestic abuse and unemployment made fewer visits, but other reasons for seeking assistance (including changes and delays to benefit payments, debt, low income and poor health) were not associated with the number of food bank visits.
People from all 34 of the foodbank's catchment wards visited the foodbank and represented the full range of area-level income and multiple deprivation, demonstrating that foodbank use is not confined to people living in the most deprived areas.
• Why is the study important? What are the implications?
The study fills a key evidence gap by presenting the first estimate the proportion of adults and children using UK food banks. It shows that while only a minority of people use food banks, this still equates to a substantial number of people. The results indicate that severe levels of poverty are present in contemporary Britain.
Growth in the distribution of emergency food was inflated by a rising number of people visiting the foodbank on multiple occasions, suggesting that for some people using food banks, this behaviour is becoming more entrenched as the circumstances underlying people's food bank use are not addressed. The government has consistently praised food banks, but evidence of long-term foodbank use demonstrates that distributing emergency food is not a long-term solution to the problem of food poverty.
The risks of nutritional deficiencies among food insecure individuals and the high prevalence of mental and physical health problems among people who do not eat adequate diets make ensuring food security for all an urgent public health priority for both practitioners and policy-makers.

Further information