Is the 'bedroom tax' responsible for tripling foodbank usage?

16 October 2013

"Bedroom Tax TRIPLES the number of people needing charity foodbanks to survive."

Daily Mirror, 16 October 2013

With Labour Leader Ed Miliband using today's Prime Minister's Questions to accuse the government of allowing living standards to fall on its watch, the Trussell Trust caused a stir this morning by telling the press that use of its foodbanks had tripled in the first half of this financial year compared to the same period last year.

The Mirror and Labour were among those to point the finger at the government's welfare reforms for the rise, with the Mirror claiming in its headline that the so-called 'bedroom tax' in particular was responsible for the tripling.

While this was qualified further down in the article - where it was claimed that the 'tax' "helped" to drive the rise - the headline is difficult to support from the information provided by the Trussell Trust.

The Trust itself does mention the policy as a contributing factor, saying in its press release that "foodbanks are reporting increased referrals as a result of the spare room subsidy."

However according to the data it provides, it alone can't account for the tripling. Between April and September this year, 19% of people referred to foodbanks found themselves in difficulty because of changes to their welfare payments, compared to 14% of referrals in the same period in 2012. While the proportion has clearly increased, it is still a minority of the total using foodbanks.

We spoke to the Trust about the data, and a spokesperson told us that while the welfare reforms introduced at the beginning of the financial year were "a major factor" in the increased demand it was witnessing, it's difficult to be get a comprehensive picture of just how significant it has been because much of the data gathered relied on anecdotal evidence provided by different foodbanks, which may not be comparable with previous years' data.

It's also worth remembering that the Trussell Trust has doubled the number of food banks it runs since 2012, and the government argues that much of the tripling in the numbers helped can be explained by "supply induced demand": more people have been helped simply because the Trust is better equiped to help more people (although the Trust itself says that even "well-established foodbanks across the UK are reporting significant rises in numbers helped.")

While the Mirror does include many of these caveats in its article, readers who saw only the headline might have been left with the impression that the 'bedroom tax' alone was responsible for driving the rise.

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