Intended for healthcare professionals


Austerity, sanctions, and the rise of food banks in the UK

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 08 April 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1775
  1. Rachel Loopstra, postdoctoral researcher1,
  2. Aaron Reeves, senior research fellow1,
  3. David Taylor-Robinson, senior clinical lecturer in public health2,
  4. Ben Barr, senior clinical lecturer in applied public health2,
  5. Martin McKee, professor of european public health3,
  6. David Stuckler, professor of political economy and sociology1
  1. 1Department of Sociology, Oxford University, Manor Road Building, Manor Road, Oxford OX1 3UQ, UK
  2. 2Department of Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool, UK
  3. 3Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: R Loopstra rachel.loopstra{at}
  • Accepted 25 March 2015

Doctors are witnessing increasing numbers of patients seeking referrals to food banks in the United Kingdom. Rachel Loopstra and colleagues ask, is this due to supply or demand?

In the spring of 2014 the Trussell Trust, a non-governmental organisation that coordinates food banks in the United Kingdom, reported that it had distributed emergency food parcels to 913 138 children and adults across the UK in the previous year—seven times more than in 2011-12.1 In 2009-10 Trussell Trust food banks were operating in 29 local authorities across the UK; by 2013-14, the number had jumped to 251 (fig 1). Although soup kitchens have long operated in the UK,2 this rapid spread of food banks is a new phenomenon, raising concerns from the UK’s Faculty of Public Health that “the welfare system is increasingly failing to provide a robust last line of defence against hunger.”3 General practitioners have also raised concerns about patients seeking referrals to food banks.4 One recent survey of 522 GPs found that 16% had been asked for such referrals.5

Trussell Trust food banks in local authorities in England, Scotland, and Wales in 2009 and 2013. Source: The Trussell Trust.

What has caused the sudden rise in food banks is a topic of considerable debate.6 Some commentators argue that it has little to do with food insecurity but results from food charities expanding their operations.7 They argue that people are taking advantage of food made freely available.8 By contrast, UK food charities claim that they provide emergency food aid in response to economic hardship and food insecurity.9 10 A joint report from the Trussell Trust, the Church of England, and the charities Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group found that food bank users were more likely to live in rented …

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