Providing access to housing, mortgage, and benefits advice within food banks can help lift people out of poverty—according to a University of East Anglia study.
The researchers worked with Norwich Foodbank centres, part of the Trussell Trust, in a pilot project which saw representatives from Citizens Advice and Shelter posted within the service.
The ‘Making a Difference’ initiative means that people who are forced to use a food bank are also able to access advice on a range of issues – from housing and debt to benefits.
It is now expected that this scheme will be rolled out to foodbanks in the country.
The lead researcher Dr. Sarah Hanson, from UEA’s School of Health Sciences, said, “As the cost-of-living crisis continues, more and more people are turning to food banks because they cannot afford food.
“This may be because they have had a drastic change in circumstances, low income, debt, or because their benefits have changed or been delayed.
“We want to see if making more support available to people at food banks can help – so they don’t have to rely on emergency food.
“We know that signposting, for example providing information about other local organizations, is not enough. This is because people’s issues are complex and require a more holistic approach.”
The ‘Making a Difference’ project is a pilot advisory scheme in the region with staff from Shelter and Citizen’s Advice posted within some of its food banks.
The UEA team interviewed food bank volunteers and advice workers, to provide feedback on the live experience of the scheme.
Dr. Hanson said, “One of the main things that emerged was that having a person-centered, holistic, and compassionate approach is essential for clients with complex needs that cut across many different services.
“It can be very difficult for people to navigate the benefits system, the housing system, social services – you need an integrated approach with advisers who can help on many levels.
“Many people are missing out on benefits like Healthy Start vouchers and pension credit – because they don’t realize they’re entitled to them.
“Many people who visit food banks have poor mental or physical health, as well as personal trauma. Having counselors available at the point of need means people don’t have to tell their stories many times in different organizations.
“We found that the service reached very vulnerable people who fell in the gaps, in the heart of really deprived communities. These people may have previously found counseling services that were not accessible, and they are often socially excluded from opportunities and services that can support them.
“Importantly, the initiative empowers clients by treating them with dignity and sensitivity in often stressful situations,” he added.
But while the scheme is helping food bank clients, researchers have found that frontline staff may need help themselves.
Dr. Hanson said, “We hear that being on the frontline can affect mental health. So it’s important that anyone who listens and supports people in crisis in a challenging landscape, should have access to support themselves. ”
Rhiannon Barrow, Trussell Trust financial inclusion manager for the East of England, said, “The partnership between UEA and Norwich Foodbank is one of the first collaborations between a university and the Trussell Trust Foodbank.
“The evaluation of the ‘Making a Difference’ project shows the effectiveness of working with organizations so that individuals are supported holistically and do not have to be retraumatized by repeating their stories.
“The evaluation also enabled reflection and a space to discuss continuous improvement so that Norwich Foodbank can better serve their community and support staff and volunteers, which they always strive to do.”
Hannah Worsley, Norwich Foodbank project manager, said, “We are delighted to be working with the UEA research team to independently evaluate and understand our project, in terms of what we hope the results will be and what some of the actual outcomes are. that result.
“Interviews with our volunteers, and insights from Citizen’s Advice and Shelter advisors, along with research provided by UEA, give us a fuller and better understanding of what this work has done for our served and, more importantly, how we can. improve the service for our clients.”
Nidhi Mittal, the Trussell Trust’s pathfinder lead, said, “The UEA study, funded through the Trussell Trust Pathfinder programme, is an innovative piece of work that provides important insights into the impact that the Financial inclusion services included in a holistic support model can reduce the need for emergency food parcels.
“The Trussell Trust’s Pathfinder program aims to support innovation and learning about how we can tackle the root causes of poverty in the UK, and this UEA-led study offers an excellent testament to the work of Norwich foodbank and a base of vital learning and knowledge. for our wider network of foodbanks and partners.”
“A qualitative exploration of a Financial Inclusion service in an English foodbank” is published in the journal Public Health Perspectives.
A qualitative exploration of a Financial Inclusion service in an English foodbank, Public Health Perspectives (2023). research-portal.uea.ac.uk/en/p … usion-service-in-an-
Provided by the University of East Anglia
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