LGA submission to All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ending the Need for Food Banks, inquiry on ‘Cash or food? Exploring effective responses to destitution’

About the Local Government Association

  • The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically led, cross-party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales. 
  • Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, and raise national awareness of the work of councils. Our ultimate ambition is to support councils to deliver local solutions to national problems.


Councils’ Local Welfare Assistance Schemes (LWAS) play an essential role supporting the most economically vulnerable households from falling into destitution and will be vital in our response to the cost-of-living crisis. Councils have demonstrated throughout the pandemic that they are uniquely placed to respond to local needs and reach their most vulnerable residents, such as when councils created local shielding services almost overnight.

The most effective forms of crisis support provides residents with choice, dignity and flexibility and offers a pathway to wider integrated, preventative support, linking financial support and inclusion with key services including housing, employment and health.

Councils strive to provide crisis support that is flexible and accessible. LGA best-practice guidance encourages councils to offer a mixture of both in-kind support and cash payments, enabling frontline staff to tailor support to people’s individual circumstances and offer cash payments when this is the most suitable option to alleviate immediate hardship. Many councils offer versatile vouchers and pre-paid cards which can be used at multiple retailers. These prioritise choice and ownership, while negating the risk of misuse.

Increasingly councils are working with those with lived experience of poverty to co-design welfare support services and inform service delivery. These approaches are valuable in tailoring support to meet the needs of all groups in the community, including those who have no recourse to public funds.

Over the past decade, councils have faced significant reductions in funding to their core budgets while demand has risen across services, which has constrained their ability to match the demand for local welfare assistance with investment. To redress this and ensure all councils have the resources and capacity to deliver effective local welfare provision, we continue to call on Government to restore separately identified funding for local welfare.

Alongside this, we want Government to work with us to develop a shared outcomes framework for nationally provided local welfare funding, which would help to ensure that crisis support is more effectively integrated with prevention. This would also help to ensure that data on outcomes of local welfare provision is collected more consistently to assess its impact on wider social, health and economic outcomes.

While recent funding from the government, such as the Household Support Fund and Winter Support Fund, has been helpful and much-needed, the strict spending requirements and short-term nature of these funds have limited some councils’ ability to target support to where it is needed. We urge the Government to review the spending criteria of the Household Support Fund, in consultation with the sector to ensure councils can more effectively meet the needs of those in crisis.

We want to work with government to ensure we move from crisis support, towards improving life chances and building resilience. It is the LGA’s view that an adequately resourced national benefit system should provide the principal safety net for all low-income households and cover households’ basic needs. This would reduce the growing demand for crisis support and enable councils to target limited local discretionary support to the most vulnerable people and those with complex needs.

Accessing food that is healthy, nutritious and affordable is an increasing challenge for families in the most disadvantaged communities. We believe that that the Government’s response to the National Food Strategy represents a missed opportunity to tackle the underlying causes of food insecurity, childhood obesity and the affordability of nutritious food.

There are a number of measures that Government should consider to address these challenges and reduce the number of people facing food insecurity. We are calling on the Government to expand access to, and the value of, healthy start vouchers and expand the eligibility criteria for free school meals (FSM) to encompass all children and young people of school age who are in food poverty. Alongside this, Government must introduce automatic enrolment for FSM.

Evidence suggests that these measures could deliver long-term socio-economic benefits and contribute towards our shared objectives of tackling inequality, reducing the pressure on health services and closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.

Crisis support

Drawing on expertise across the UK, the APPG has highlighted the importance of choice, dignity and flexibility in delivering crisis support. Are there any other best practice principles that effective crisis support should uphold?

The vast majority of councils in England deliver crisis support through their discretionary Local Welfare Assistance Schemes (LWAS). These provide emergency funds and other support to the most economically vulnerable households and play an essential role in addressing immediate hardship.

Since 2015, councils have not received any separately identified funding from Government to deliver LWAS and councils are not statutorily required to provide crisis support or wider LWAS schemes. While this has afforded councils a degree flexibility over how they design support to meet local need, the absence of dedicated and stable funding continues to limit some councils’ ability to deliver the level of support they would like.  

Our good practice guide, 'delivering financial hardship support schemes', examines the different models of crisis support offered by councils across the country. It identifies that most effective forms of council crisis support schemes provide residents with choice, dignity, and flexibility. Schemes should also be accessible and provide a pathway to wrap-around support services that tackle more deep-rooted issues and address users’ longer-term needs. Best-practice indicates that to deliver good outcomes for users, crisis support should be aligned with a much broader support infrastructure, which includes a combination of council-delivered services and referral partnerships with voluntary sector and other statutory organisations. Wrap-around support can include welfare benefit entitlement checks; debt advice; and employment, health, and housing support.

Ensuring that proactive support services are aligned to hardship schemes is essential to not only maximising finite resources and providing financial help to the most vulnerable but also for converting this short-term remedy into effective longer-term financial stability, by addressing wider circumstances and needs. A number of councils make access to this wider support provision a formal condition of accessing their hardship scheme, to ensure families who are trapped in cycles of financial crisis get the full range of support available.

For example, in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham the councils’ hardship scheme works in conjunction with the Homes and Money Hub to support residents across a broad range of services.  Based in the local library, the Hub offers ‘drop-in’ support including budgeting and debt advice; referrals to the ‘Job Shop’ which helps people to access the adult community learning offer, improve their skills and find work, in addition to other further advice and support.

Another principle that should underpin the design of crisis support is accessibility. To reach all those who need help, it is important that those in crisis have access to clear, up-to-date information on what help is available locally. Hardship schemes, including crisis support, should be promoted through as many different channels as possible. It is standard practice for councils to promote their local hardship schemes through their council websites and via the use of local infrastructure such as community hubs, customer service centres, relevant council departments (eg Housing Options team) and registered social landlords. Additionally, schemes are often promoted to local voluntary / charitable organisations working with vulnerable people who would likely benefit from support (eg via local Citizens Advice bureaux). Based on existing best-practice, the LGA recommends that hardship schemes are also underpinned by a publicly accessible policy document, which sets out relevant principles, standards and criteria for the available support. This should also be accompanied by a simple factsheet with the details of the hardship scheme, so people know what support is available and how they can access it.

To reduce barriers to access, residents should also be able to apply for support through a range of different routes– such as online, telephone and via trusted local partners. This is important to reach people who become newly vulnerable, who may not have previously engaged council hardship schemes, or sought support through council’s local VCSE partners. It also vital that there are off-line routes to apply for support for those who are digitally excluded, for example by providing written communications or enabling people to apply over the phone.

Over the past decade, councils have faced significant reductions in funding to their core budgets while facing rising demand across services, which has constrained their ability to match the demand for local welfare assistance with investment. We have long called on Government to restore separately identified funding for local welfare. This will be essential to ensure all councils have the resources and capacity to plan and deliver effective local welfare provision, that balances crisis support with integrated preventative services.

In response to COVID-19 and the current rise in cost of living, Government has provided councils with a various emergency funds to support their most financially vulnerable residents with cash grants, such as the Household Support Fund and the COVID Winter Grant Scheme. This funding is separate from LWAS and is being delivered in addition to any existing local welfare support and crisis support already offered by councils.

Councils have worked at pace to deliver these grants, but inflexible funding criteria and the short-term nature of the funds has limited councils’ ability to strategically determine how the grant is spent.  For example, councils have not been able to spend any of this funding on advice services and are they limited on who they can offer it to.

 While this funding is welcome and has provided much-needed crisis support, its short-term, emergency nature has meant that its impact in building people’s longer-term financial resilience and stability has been limited. Therefore, funding delivered through similar schemes should not be seen as a substitute for an adequately funded mainstream benefits system or local welfare schemes.

What is the most effective, appropriate, and dignified form of crisis support and why?

Through their services and outreach work, councils have a strong understanding of their local community and are therefore best placed, working with local voluntary and community sector partners, to identify the needs of their vulnerable and lower-income households and design tailor crisis support.

Crisis support funding cannot, and should not, be relied upon to fill the gaps in our social security safety.  It should instead help meet urgent need and act as a gateway to further-wrap around support. To ensure flexibility and effectiveness to meet a wide range of needs, hardship schemes should be broad and allow for the provision of a range of items, including emergency food, fuel and other essential non-food items. Applicants should be able to identify which support is most appropriate for their situation through the assessment process.

LGA commissioned research found that following the localisation of crisis support in 2013, councils have moved from primarily providing direct cash payments to favouring the provision of in-kind support, such as goods or vouchers. NAO research has also identified that only a quarter of councils continue to offer cash support.

Councils have moved to providing in-kind support instead of direct cash payments for a number of reasons. The misuse associated with the former Social Fund scheme has steered some councils away from giving cash payments. Moreover, purchasing household items on behalf of individuals or offering vouchers and pre-paid cards for specific goods, such as food, energy, and furniture, means that councils can be certain that people receive the support that they have requested. This approach can also make monitoring and impact analysis easier for councils, which are important tools to understand and demonstrate need in the local area.

​​​​​​​However, there are concerns that where in-kind support is offered inflexibly, it can act as a disincentive to potential applicants, as people feel the support on offer will not meet their needs. With this in mind, many councils offer versatile vouchers and pre-paid cards, such as the Charity Shop Gift Card  and supermarket vouchers that can be used at multiple retailers. These offer users an appropriate and dignified option that prioritises choice and ownership, while still negating the risk of misuse. LGA best-practice guidance also encourages councils to offer a mixture of both in-kind support and cash payments, to enable frontline staff to tailor support to people’s individual circumstances and offer cash payments when this is the most suitable option.

​​​​​​​In some cases, the provision affordable credit can also be used to help people in financial crisis, either in addition to in-kind and cash-based grants, or when people do not meet eligibility criteria for the LWAS. Our report exploring the role of councils in improving access to affordable credit and financial services for low-income households, highlights that that the provision of low-interest loans can be an effective component of local welfare assistance, which can prevent people from turning to high interest pay-day loans.

​​​​​​​Recent polling by London-based lender Plend showed that around 1 in 5 people in Britain currently feel that they are not able to access credit from mainstream lenders. Given their role as local community leaders and place shapers, and ongoing work with credit unions and Community Development Financial Institutions, councils are well placed to support, develop, and promote the delivery of affordable and responsible finance within their areas to meet this growing need. Affordable credit is an effective tool for frontline staff to offer when appropriate, as it can help build financial resilience and capability, and reduce the need for borrowing in the future.

​​​​​​​In 2019, Bristol City Council made a £500,000 investment into the Bristol Credit Union (BCU) to support the long-term, sustainable growth of the credit union and improve residents’ access to affordable credit. The investment aimed to support BCU to triple in size over 5 years, boost access to affordable credit, create local jobs in the ethical finance sector and support outreach workers to provide financial advice in the most deprived wards in the city. In 2019/20, the Bristol Credit Union made loans to over 870 people who live in the bottom 20 percent of areas by levels of deprivation. Assuming they had used a high-cost lender instead, the Union saved these borrowers just under £690,000 across the year. Across all members in Bristol and Bath, the Union is potentially saving its members over £2.9 million.

What forms of crisis support do people facing destitution prefer to access and why?

​​​​​​​Councils are committed to supporting those facing financial crisis in a way that is both dignified and meets their needs, including addressing any wider concerns around debt, housing insecurity, and employment.

​​​​​​​A number of councils have put residents at the heart of their decision-making process when designing policies aimed to support those on a low-income or in destitution. For example, Leeds City Council and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council are working with the Poverty Truth Network, which brings people with experience of poverty together with local decision makers, to co-create solutions to tackle poverty and inform local service design and delivery.

​​​​​​​Co-designing services in this way and consulting those experiencing poverty offers an important opportunity to take local preference into account and ensure services deliver the biggest impact on people’s lives. As places and communities differ, the form of crisis support that is needed may vary between hyper-local areas.  Taking a local, place-based approach and co-designing services with those who use them is therefore important to understanding and delivering on communities’ needs.

In what ways should crisis support be tailored to meet the needs of people from different demographics? For instance, families with children, disabled people, people with no recourse to public funds, different ethnic groups and religious backgrounds

​​​​​​​Considering the needs of people from different demographics is vital to ensure the effectiveness of the support. Councils are working to deliver local welfare and crisis support that is appropriate and accessible.  One of the important strengths of local welfare assistance schemes is councils’ ability to work flexibly to adapt support to the needs of their communities.

​​​​​​​While recent funding from the government, such as the Household Support Fund, has been helpful, the strict spending requirements for these funds have limited councils’ ability to be innovative and meet all local support needs.

​​​​​​​In April 2022, the Government updated the spending award criteria for the Household Support Fund, so that councils must spend at least a third of the funding on households that include a pensioner, in addition to the third that is ringfenced for households that have a child. While we are pleased that pensioner poverty has been recognised as a national priority, councils have told us that this new criteria for the Household Support Fund has hindered their ability to deliver crisis support where they know it is needed. Areas with relatively young populations, e.g. Brighton and Hove and Oxford City, may find the requirement to spend a third of the grant on pension-age households an inefficient use of the Household Support Fund as this limits the support available for other vulnerable low-income households in different demographic groups, such as disabled people or unpaid carers.

​​​​​​​To allow councils to plan effectively and better meet all residents’ needs, it is essential that the Government puts local welfare funding on a long-term sustainable footing. This will allow councils to plan and deliver more holistic support that incorporates service-users’ voices and lived experience, and builds in wrap-around support from wider services that can improve people’s longer-term financial resilience, social mobility, health and wellbeing.

​​​​​​​If the Government decides to deliver welfare support through further short-term pots of funding, it is important that they remain locally delivered. We also urge the Government to review the spending criteria placed on the Household Support Fund, in consultation with the sector, to enable councils to use their local knowledge and discretion to target support to where it most needed within their population. Removing the nationally-set requirement to spend a third of the grant of pension-age households and allowing councils to carry over the current funding into the next spending period is likely to deliver more effective outcomes for communities.

​​​​​​​We would also like Government to work with us to develop a shared outcomes framework for nationally provided local welfare funding, which would help to ensure that crisis support is more effectively integrated with prevention. This would also help to ensure that data on outcomes of local welfare provision is collected more consistently to assess its impact on wider social, health and economic outcomes.

The role of food banks

What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of the provision and supply of emergency food parcels by food banks?

Foodbanks currently play a vital role in addressing immediate hunger and food insecurity. Trussell Trust, the largest network of foodbanks in the UK, have seen an 81 per cent increase in usage during the last two weeks of March 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

The combination of inflation, wage stagnation and real-terms cuts to benefits is severely impacting households’ ability to afford essential costs. Research by the Food Foundation found that in April 2022, 7.3 million adults said they had gone without food or could not access food in the past month, compared with 4.7 million adults in January 2022. If the current cost of living trajectory continues, it is estimated that by 2023/24, food, energy, and other essentials such as housing would account for more than half of incomes for the poorest 40 per cent in society, with food bills alone rising by £380 per year. These figures indicate that an increasing amount of people now face the prospect of living in chronic food insecurity. Therefore, without investment in the national and local welfare systems and broader reforms to tackle the root causes of poverty, foodbanks will continue to play an essential function in our society.

We agree with the Trussell Trust’s objective to end the need for foodbanks. While emergency food parcels serve a vital function, they are a short-term solution that do not tackle the root cause of hunger. Moreover, food parcels do not always have a high nutritional content or meet the dietary needs of recipients. An analysis of the nutritional adequacy and content of the Trussell Trust food parcels in Oxfordshire found that they exceeded energy requirements and provided disproportionately high sugar and carbohydrate and inadequate vitamin A and vitamin D, compared to the UK guidelines.

Access to food that is healthy, nutritious and affordable is a huge challenge for families in our most disadvantaged communities, particularly amidst the ongoing rise in the cost-of-living crisis. Figures from the Food Foundation show that for households in the bottom 10 per cent of household income to follow healthy eating guidance, they would have to spend 74 per cent of their income on food. This demonstrates that for families within this bracket, it is not ignorance or an inability to cook that is the fundamental cause of poor nutrition; it is poverty.

Increasing prices may lead families to choose cheaper food options which are often high in fat, salt and sugar. The prevalence of obesity across the country is highest amongst the most deprived communities and has increased further since the pandemic. These differences in obesity rates translate to worse health outcomes for people living in more deprived communities and therefore contribute to deepening health inequalities across the country.

​​​​​​​We believe that that the Government’s response to the National Food Strategy represents a missed opportunity to tackle the underlying causes of food insecurity, childhood obesity and the affordability of nutritious food. Many of these issues will continue to be exacerbated by the growing cost of living crisis if further action is not taken.

​​​​​​​In our view, the most effective way to ensure people can access nutritious food is through a national welfare system that provides people with sufficient means to meet true living costs. A whole system approach to our food system, such as that outlined in the National Food Strategy, is also needed to tackle inequalities and ensure that everyone has access to safe, healthy, sustainable and affordable food, no matter where they live or how much they earn.

​​​​​​​Alongside this, there are a number of measures the Government should consider to address these challenges and reduce the number of people facing food insecurity. We are calling on Government to expand access to and the value of Healthy Start Vouchers, which help pregnant women and families with children under 4 years of age to buy fruit, vegetables, vitamins and baby milk. National Food Strategy analysis found that the current eligibly criteria for the scheme means that over 250,000 children under 5 who face food insecurity are ineligible for the vouchers. Expanding the scheme would play a vital role in tackling health inequalities by ensuring that more pregnant women and young children, who are not yet eligible for school meals, have access to nutritious food.

​​​​​​​We are also urging the Government to review the eligibility criteria for Free School Meals (FSM). Children are currently only eligible for FSMs if their family receives a qualifying benefit and has an annual household income under £7400. This eligibility criteria has remained unchanged since its introduction in 2018. As a result, one in three children living in poverty – equating to 800,000 children – are not eligible for FSM. To address this, we want to work with the Government to find a solution that means all children facing food insecurity are entitled to a school lunch. For example, Government could consider introducing universal provision of FSM to all primary pupils in England, which is a policy that the Scottish and Welsh devolved administrations have committed to.

​​​​​​​FSM is a benefit worth £440 per child per year. Extending eligibility could represent a meaningful saving for many households on a low-incomes who are currently ineligible. In addition to tackling food poverty and reducing the need for crisis support, widened access to FSM could have significant long-term health and socio-economic benefits. Child Poverty Action Group research found that the introduction of universal provision of FSM to infants on average reduced the chances of a child becoming obese by 0.7 percentage points relative to the pre-policy average. This equates to a 7.4 per cent reduction in obesity rates. With fewer than two out of every one hundred packed lunches meeting UK nutritional standards, evidence a suggests that providing free school meals can contribute to an overall healthier diet, especially for students living in socioeconomically disadvantaged households. FSMs have also been linked to improving attention and performance of children from low-income backgrounds. Expanding FSM provision could therefore contribute towards key objectives such as tackling health inequality, reducing the pressure on health services and closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.

​​​​​​​Alongside this, it is important that Government implements automatic enrolment of all children who are eligible for FSM using DWP data. At present, up to 11 per cent of children who are eligible for FSM have not taken up the offer, equating to 215,000 school children in England. Automatic enrolment would ensure that children do not miss out on FSM due to factors such as lack of awareness of the scheme or confusion over the eligibility criteria.

​​​​​​​We hope the Government uses the opportunity of the long-awaited Health Disparities White Paper to address the social and economic determinants of health and set out meaningful action to support the most deprived groups in society.

In a future society where food banks are no longer needed to provide emergency food, what are the values and attributes of food banks that you would want to see held onto by communities, and why?

​​​​​​​There is a long tradition of councils working closely with the voluntary and community sector to respond to the needs of local communities in emergencies and improve outcomes for residents. The VCS can perform a vital function as local connectors, strengthening links between the council and residents and using creative methods to ensure that diverse voices are present in local decision-making.

​​​​​​​Foodbanks today are a vital partner in this network and councils have told us this is where people often first present when experiencing food poverty and hardship. In Tower Hamlets this has been recognised and local food bank staff are able to make warm referrals to support services at the council, via the Coordinated Community Support online referral system. Financial inclusion advisors can assist with LWAS crisis applications for both in-kind and cash-based awards, and can also provide a pathway to preventative services, such as employment and housing advice, benefit maximisation, and external advice on debt and financial products. This method of partnership working ensures that crisis support is robustly linked to preventative services aimed at improving financial resilience and potentially reducing the need for future food parcels or crisis support.

​​​​​​​In a society where foodbanks were no longer needed, we would want to see a continuation of this collaboration when working to achieve shared objectives and delivering financial support to people experiencing crisis, some of whom may always require additional help despite changes to welfare policy.

The effectiveness of alternatives to providing emergency food

What are the comparative advantages and/or disadvantages of providing other forms of crisis support to food banks, namely: low cost community food support (e.g. social supermarkets, food pantries), other in kind support, and cash grants?

Social supermarkets and food pantries offer lower-income households’ access to affordable food that is surplus and would otherwise go to waste. As users pay a discounted rate for food through a membership fee, these models are distinct from foodbanks and offer households who cannot afford to shop at supermarkets, an alternative to emergency food parcels.

Voluntary and community sector organisations working in the space, such as Your Local Pantry, consider this option a more dignified approach that also enables users to exercise a degree of choice when acquiring food. Community Shop, a chain with 24 social supermarkets across the UK, offers discounted food for those on the cusp of poverty. Profits from sales are used to fund community hubs where members are offered training and personal development on areas such as money and well-being. Some Community Shops also operate community kitchens, which provide members with low-price meals and cooking classes. An impact report for Community Shop found that 99 per cent of members who were surveyed said their sense of community had improved since joining, while 83 per cent felt better educated to eat more healthily at home.

An academic study of multiple social supermarkets in the UK supports this claim and recognised the value of affordable food provision in the immediate context of food poverty and waste concerns. However, the research highlights that there are contradictions and tensions in normalising a bottom-up approach to chronic food insecurity. There is a potential risk of creating a two-tier society, as there are not enough social supermarkets to cover all the geographical areas in most urgent need.  Means-tested membership can also preclude some households experiencing food insecurity from accessing support.

The study of social supermarkets also tells us that relying on food surplus can be unpredictable, and therefore the ability of low cost food models to provide fresh, healthy, and nutritious food can be variable.

Many foodbanks and low-cost community food providers sit within, or work closely with, a local food partnership. Local food partnerships bring together councils and partners across the public sector, voluntary community, and business sector, to help tackle some of the broader causes and impacts of food insecurity. Middlesbrough Food Partnership, with the support of Middlesbrough Council, is working towards creating a local food system where people can eat good quality, healthy food that is easy to buy, offers value for money and is produced locally wherever possible. For example, the partnership has worked with the council to develop and implement a food poverty action plan, which includes initiatives such as improving the coordination and navigation of the local welfare safety net and increasing the uptake of Healthy Start vouchers with families, and also the number of local retailers accepting vouchers.

Food partnerships are often more strategic and seek to implement longer-term change. Research has found that they have been effective in bringing together diverse local policy actors to create cross-cutting solutions that promote good, healthy, affordable, and local food. This whole-systems approach to tackling food insecurity, which can include emergency food provision where appropriate, may therefore be more advantageous to foodbanks alone.

What lessons can be learnt from the pandemic about the role of cash-based support?

​​​​​​​Adopting cash payments was recognised as increasingly relevant in response to the COVID-19 crisis and the increasing demand for support from residents who needed immediate financial relief. For example, through their Crisis Support Scheme, Newcastle City Council responded to increasing demand and the unavailability of home shopping delivery slots by moving to using pre-paid cash vouchers sent via email or mobile phone that can be redeemed at PayPoint outlets, as well as direct payments into bank accounts where there are no other options.

​​​​​​​The pandemic has demonstrated that councils are best placed to understand and respond to the local needs of their most vulnerable residents. We are working with councils to utilise these learnings and consider offering cash-based awards where appropriate, to maximise flexibility and immediate hardship relief for those seeking support. The potential risk of misuse should be balanced with the need to ensure the support meets the needs of vulnerable households.

How do experiences of alternatives to emergency food (other food-based support, other in kind support, cash grants) vary across different geographic areas? For instance rural and urban areas, areas at high risk of destitution (e.g. coastal communities, post-industrial towns).

​​​​​​​East Devon District Council have taken an innovative approach to designing crisis support that suits the differing needs of their rural and urban population, by designing a Social Resilience Dashboard to improve the use of data which informs the delivery of local welfare support.  The Social Resilience Dashboard compiles data from different sources including, Housing Benefit, Council Tax, Universal Credit, ECP rating, debt, and previous welfare support awards, to create a visual dashboard, which allows the council to filter households by employment type, whether there is a disability present, and if the household is pension-age. Amalgamating internal and external data sets mean the council can identify areas at specific risk of poverty and destitution. For example, the dashboard can identify pockets of rural deprivation with high levels of fuel poverty and target appropriate crisis and longer-term support to these areas that takes into consideration the challenges of living in rural deprivation.

​​​​​​​Bringing together multiple data sources enables councils to increasingly map and predict household vulnerabilities as well as segmenting and targeting its engagement and early intervention work based on those who could most benefit. Longer-term local welfare funding would allow more councils to invest in the staff, products and tools needed for this level of analysis.

Learning from best practice and new ideas

How can rights-based approaches be used to support people facing destitution (for example, a statutory right to food, right to social security)? What role could these approaches play in tackling short-term crises and ending the need for food banks?

Rights-based approaches to service design are an effective way for councils and partners to ensure that they are considering, balancing and – where possible – meeting the needs of their diverse communities.  This is the principle behind effective equality impact assessment of products and services.

In the context of both preventative services and crisis support, rights-based approaches provide an effective framework for thinking about marginalised and vulnerable groups, and what they might need to do to make services and support accessible and fair.

Councils’ welfare rights services provide vital support to households, link with other local services and help to ensure accountability, for example through safeguarding partnerships. One of the most effective ways that councils prevent hardship is by ensuring that people are accessing and receiving the support that they are entitled to.  It is the LGA’s view that funding for local welfare and preventative services, including welfare rights, should be put on a more sustainable footing.

A rights-based approach can also lead to better decisions about the appropriate level at which support should be delivered, for example through considering the needs of certain groups to access local, face-to-face or in-person support.

​​​​​​​Councils can also consider groups who do not have specific rights within the UK, for example people with no recourse to public funds, who may be more at risk of financial exclusion as a consequence of their immigration status.

​​​​​​​Health Justice Partnerships demonstrate the important link between access to legal and welfare rights and health outcomes, and explore how taking a rights based approach can help to address the wider determinants of public health. In Bedfordshire, Central Bedfordshire Council, Bedford Borough Council and North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, are working in partnership to deliver the Macmillan Welfare Rights Service for people with a cancer diagnosis and their carers. Through co-location of social welfare advice in hospital settings and embedding welfare rights in secondary-care, this long-standing Health Justice Partnership has successfully assisted over 8362 cancer patients with face to face, telephone and email advice, achieving £30.4 million in benefit and grant awards.

From your experience and/or observation, what is the one policy change you would prioritise to end the need for food banks?

​​​​​​​No one policy alone would end the need for all foodbanks. The challenges facing low-income households are multifaceted and complex. To end the need for foodbanks, a comprehensive solution would be required that includes short, medium, and long-term policies, working together, to tackle the various structural inequalities that prevent people from accessing affordable, nutritious and sustainable food. 

​​​​​​​In 2019 to 2020, the primary cause for referrals to the Trussell Trust were low incomes (39 per cent), benefit delays (17 per cent) and benefit changes (15 per cent.) At a local level, Wandsworth Food Bank’s end of year research report showed that over 50 per cent of users reported insufficient income and benefit issues as the predominant reason for requiring support. An open letter from foodbanks in Shropshire tells a similar story, citing benefit issues, financial shocks, and insufficient income as the main reason for referrals.

​​​​​​​As low-incomes and insufficient national welfare support are the main drivers of emergency food use, the most effective solution to tackling food poverty would be through reform of the mainstream benefits system. Creating a fair, accessible and sufficient national social safety net, which underpins financial security and stability for low-income households, will be vital to deliver on the Government’s levelling up agenda and tackle inequalities by protecting those who are unable to work, reduce health disparities and link effectively with key local services to improve employment outcomes and socioeconomic wellbeing.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Although this alone will unlikely end all need for emergency food provision, it will go a long way in reducing the socioeconomic inequalities that are driving the current high levels of foodbank usage.