Understanding the post-2010 increase in food bank use in England: new quasi-experimental analysis of the role of welfare policy

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The number of food banks (charitable outlets of emergency food parcels) and the volume of food distributed by them increased multi-fold in the United Kingdom (UK) since 2010. The overwhelming majority of users of food banks are severely food insecure. Since food insecurity implies a nutritionally inadequate diet, and poor dietary intake has been linked to a number of diseases and chronic conditions, the rise in the number of people using food banks is a phenomenon of significant importance for public health. However, there is a shortage of robust, causal statistical analyses of drivers of food bank use, hindering social and political action on alleviating severe food insecurity.

A panel dataset of 325 local authorities in England was constructed, spanning 9 years (2011/12–2019/20). The dataset included information about the volume of parcels and the number of food banks in the Trussell Trust network, as well as economy-related, welfare system-related and housing-related variables. A quasi-experimental approach was employed in the form of a ‘first differencing’ ecological model, predicting the number of food parcels distributed by food banks in the Trussell Trust network. This neutralised bias from omitting time-constant unobserved confounders.

Seven predictors in the model were statistically significant, including four related to the welfare system: the value of the main out-of-work benefit; the roll-out of Universal Credit; benefit sanctions; and the ‘bedroom tax’ in social housing. Of the remaining three significant predictors, one regarded the ‘supply’ side (the number of food banks in the area) and two regarded the ‘demand’ side (the proportion of working age population on out-of-work benefits; the proportion of working age population who were unemployed).

The structure of the welfare system has been partly responsible for driving food bank use in the UK since 2011. Severe food insecurity could be alleviated by reforming aspects of the benefit system that have been evidenced to be implicated in the rise in food bank use. More broadly, the findings provide support for ‘Health and Health Equity in All Policies’ approach to policymaking.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1363
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2022


  • Benefits
  • Food banks
  • Food insecurity
  • Welfare system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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