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More Than Food

4th October 2018

Foodbanks could play pivotal role helping people tackle the causes of their food poverty, new research finds

Research published today (click here to view) by the Edinburgh Food Project (EFP) finds that foodbanks could play a pivotal role helping their clients tackle the root causes of their food crises by providing easy access to expert advice and support services at foodbanks. The research was funded through the Scottish Government’s Aspiring Communities Fund, with support from the European Social Fund (ESF).

In-depth interviews with 127 foodbank clients and 47 volunteers at EFP foodbanks in March 2018 revealed that people using EFP foodbanks in Edinburgh require much more help with the causes of their food poverty: mainly problems with benefits, poor health, family or relationship breakdowns, debt, unemployment and homelessness. Yet more than half of them are not currently receiving any expert advice or support with the underlying causes of their food poverty. Researchers asked foodbank clients to explain the causes of their food crises and then prioritise advice and support services they would most likely use to help with their problems. They also asked if clients were currently accessing such services and if they thought foodbanks were suitable places for these services.

The researchers found that:

  • Nine out of 10 of those interviewed would welcome and use advice and support services provided at foodbanks, and 6 out of 10 would travel further than normal to access such services
  • People’s underlying problems are persistent. Seven out of ten clients are experiencing either an entrenched or recurring food crisis.
  • People urgently want and need help with mental health issues (often linked to other problems such as with relationships, addiction, unemployment, homelessness and debt)
  • People urgently want and need help to maximise income from benefits. Clients identified benefits issues as both immediate triggers for their foodbank use and underlying causes
  • Clients also want help with debts, especially issues with energy bills
  • Generalist advisers providing drop-in services would be preferable because clients have multiple chronic problems.

Researchers gathered detailed testimonies from clients like Andrew (not his real name) – a former soldier medically discharged with PTSD who has experienced homelessness and whose wages and benefits do not cover his living expenses said, “Mental health should be prioritised. When asked to choose which advice and support services he would most likely use, his top three priorities were getting help with substance abuse, mental health and physical health. More detailed client testimonies are included in the Appendix of the Research Findings.

Chair of Edinburgh Food Project Emma Galloway commented: ‘Edinburgh Food Project was born out of the firm belief that in a city like Edinburgh it is simply unacceptable for people to go hungry for lack of food.  We commissioned this research as we were concerned about the number of people who were returning to us regularly in crisis, hungry and in need of food.  We wanted to know what the underlying issues were and how we could help people to get to the point where they were no longer in crisis and needing an emergency food parcel. These findings have indicated that not only do people value the supportive environment and food they receive from our eight foodbank centres but also that they would also like more than food and additional support to help address the root causes of why they need to come to the foodbank in the first place.’     

EFP is already working with partners to address these needs. The Community Wellbeing Drop-In, collaboratively set up by mental health and wellbeing charity Health in Mind and the Household and Family Support Service in Edinburgh, runs a drop-in service at the EFP foodbank in South Queensferry. The service was established to help address isolation in the local community and provides an opportunity for individuals struggling with mental health challenges to meet with friendly peers and professionals.

Lizzie Sosenko, Support and Development Worker for Health in Mind said: ‘The Drop-In is about acknowledging that a sense of community matters. Supporting individuals who feel vulnerable – even if it’s by offering a cup of tea and a listening ear – can go a long way in helping people to take positive steps towards improving their mental health and wider life challenges. The Drop-In is proving popular within the local community and as a result of attending, many people have gone on to access other voluntary and statutory sector services relating to housing, debt management and mental health self-management.

For further information please contact Bethany Monaghan on 0131 444 0030 or bethanymonaghan@edinburghfoodproject.org

Notes for Editors:

  • Edinburgh Food Project (EFP) was established in 2012 and manages eight Trussell Trust Food Distribution Centres in Edinburgh.
  • 2017/18 (April 2017-March 2018) was a busy year with an increase of 18.5% in the number of people accessing emergency food; in total we provided food for 9,575 men, women and children
  • EFP has a small core staff and over 190 active volunteers
  • Those who come to foodbanks are referred by statutory agencies and social welfare organisations and pick up their food parcels at the foodbanks.

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