The experience of using foodbanks

Monday 26 March 2018

In the last GoWell household survey in 2015, we asked participants if they had used a foodbank in the past year. In 2017, we carried out follow-up, in-depth qualitative interviews with a small sample of those people who reported being foodbank users. In a new report, Food and beyond exploring the foodbank experience, we present our findings on users’ experience of foodbanks. The findings are relevant to ongoing debates about the most appropriate form(s) that food aid should take, as well as having implications for the provision of public services.

The report covers four main areas. First, it describes the prior circumstances that led people to use a foodbank. These circumstances involved acute financial crises, often related to the operation of the welfare benefits system, although there were also people in work and struggling on a low income who used a foodbank. In addition, the high incidence among foodbank users of health problems, mental health issues and instances of social withdrawal are also described. Second, the report accounts for how people accessed foodbanks, often through referrals from a range of organisations, including public agencies. The dilemma people faced in relation to wishing to keep their use of foodbanks a secret, yet not knowing where foodbanks were, is reported.

The experience of using foodbanks is considered both in respect of food and other goods provided, and in terms of the social experience. Although the food was most valuable, there were some issues of appropriateness of provision for those with specific health and cultural needs, and an inability of some people to make best use of what was provided. Goods beyond food were also very appreciated by recipients. However, more than the food itself, the report shows how foodbanks were valued for the social contact and emotional support they provided to people who had mental health issues, suffered anxiety, or who were socially withdrawn. A contrast was drawn between the care and respect shown by foodbank volunteers and the treatment people received from staff working in agencies dealing with users’ benefits and employment issues.

Lastly, the report looks at what happened after foodbank use. Some people continued to use foodbanks as part of their routines because they valued the contact and support provided. Although the feelings of shame and stigma were not as acute as initially, they did not go away and people continued to feel guilt and failure at using a foodbank. Other people’s financial circumstances improved, or they made improvements in their lives, which meant they no longer needed to use a foodbank. In come cases, foodbanks provided or directed people to volunteering opportunities which helped them make progress. 

Download the full report: Food and beyond: exploring the foodbank experience

Download the associated journal article which outlines the survey results.

Read coverage of the report in the Herald: 

Study shows customers use foodbanks for more than just meals and they play key community role

Case study: ‘We were advised the only thing to do was use the food bank’

Herald View: Food banks must signal a new fight against poverty