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Evidence for the impact of benefit sanctioning on food bank use

Researchers from the Department of Nutritional Sciences at King’s are working to understand more about the growing problem of household food insecurity and food bank use in the UK.

A recent paper published Dr Rachel Loopstra found that there is a strong link between increases in benefits sanctions and the number of people receiving emergency food parcels from food banks when they examined food bank use across local authorities and over time.

Our research highlights the wider problem of food insecurity in the UK – Dr Rachel Loopstra, Department of Nutritional Sciences.

Benefit sanctioning is the practice of removing financial support for the unemployed if they fail to meet criteria for seeking work, such as regular meetings with work coaches and showing adequate evidence of job search activity. The research found that, as the rate of sanctioning rose by 10 per 100,000 adults, the rate of adults receiving food assistance also increased by an additional 3.36 adults per 100,000.

Since 2009, there have been increases in the rate of sanctions applied to claimants, with over 1 million sanctions being applied in 2013. Insufficient and insecure household incomes put households at risk of food insecurity, meaning inadequate access to food.

Lead researcher, Dr Rachel Loopstra commented: ‘Our research highlights the wider problem of food insecurity in the UK and tracking this will be even more essential with the introduction of in-work conditionality for Universal Credit claimants.

‘Government officials in the UK have previously suggested that sanctions have little impact on food insecurity but our findings show a robust link between sanctioning and food bank use. This finding is extremely pertinent as the current debate around benefits and sanctioning continues in the UK.’

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The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank organisation, have also suggested that sanctions are a key reason why people receive referrals to food banks.

Researchers say that these results have relevance for the providers of charitable food assistance and the wider problem of food insecurity in the UK. The research also demonstrates the limitations of any charitable food network’s ability to eradicate food insecurity.

Dr Loopstra’s wider work has  confirmed that food banks serve the most financially vulnerable groups in the UK: people with disabilities, people receiving out-of-work benefits, and lone parents. The impact of  austerity has also been shown to have significant negative consequences for health and health services. Her research suggests that austerity impacts most on those who are already vulnerable, such as people without employment and precarious housing. Funded by the  ESRC, she is currently investigating whether food insecurity increased and dietary quality decreased in association with economic downturn and austerity in the UK.

Interested in studying nutrition at King’s? Find out more  here