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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Patchwork safety net of food banks, fuel banks and other essential services struggling to meet needs of poorest, says IPPR

Essential service providers could be better coordinated to meet the demand created by welfare cuts and the universal credit rollout

Food banks, fuel banks and other schemes to help Britain’s poorest households with fuel, water and welfare could benefit from common standards to prevent people falling through the gaps, an IPPR report has found. Government welfare reforms have forced more households into income crisis and support services are struggling to meet the increased demand.

Researchers found that support currently available was often inconsistent and sometimes ineffective. The report argues that tackling the underlying causes of income crisis should be the main priority for welfare policy and is the responsibility of government. But in the meantime, there was a need to establish common principles to ensure the needs of people facing income crisis are being consistently met, they say.

More than 1.6 million households are unable to pay two or more essential bills, leaving them facing an ‘income crisis’, and a further 1 million are at risk of falling into this category. These households rely on an array of short-term schemes and support services, including provision for essentials such as fuel, food and travel.

Though their support is often vital, it is becoming increasingly challenging to ensure that people in need receive the right kind of help. Many support suppliers work independently and ad hoc, so the help they can offer may vary significantly from supplier to supplier and region to region. This means income crisis support has not been consistently effective, the report says.

IPPR formed an Income Crisis Taskforce which agreed key principles that local government, third-sector organisations and privately-owned essential service providers should adopt:

  • Simple to apply – Suppliers should strive for auto-enrolment. Where this is not possible, support for making applications should be readily available.
  • Supplier agnostic - Service suppliers should seek to support each other’s customers.
  • No repayment - Any support should be a grant or equivalent, rather than a loan.
  • Quick to supply - Support provided through the schemes should be made available quickly, ideally within the same day.
  • Supported by advice - Advice needs to be provided alongside any financial support.
  • Identifying the right people – There should be greater data sharing between utilities and local authorities to ensure the most vulnerable households are identified.
  • Comprehensive – There should be sufficient resources so that all of those identified can be supported.
  • Long-term sustainability - Local authorities should have a specific duty to help people move beyond crisis point towards a more sustainable income situation. Support should not simply provide a “triage service”.

Addressing the underlying factors that push households into income crisis must be a core objective of wider long-term reform to economic and welfare policy, the report says. However, in practice there is a need for both coordinated short term crisis intervention and long-term reform.

Josh Emden, IPPR Researcher, said:

“National welfare is in a state of crisis. More and more people are falling into a state of income crisis where even the most essential bills are unaffordable. A patchwork safety net of short term interventions like food banks and fuel banks have become necessary for everyday essentials such as energy, water and council tax.”



  1. The IPPR paper, Findings of the Income Crisis Taskforce: Establishing Common Principles for Responses to Income Crisis by Josh Emden, Luke Murphy and Hywel Lloyd is available for download at:
  2. The Income Crisis Taskforce was formed to explore the extent to which measures to support those people in income crisis were providing effective assistance and to suggest how this support could be standardised so that their needs are being properly met.

    Between September 2017 and July 2018, the taskforce met six times. This paper shares the key findings that arose from these meetings. Participants in the taskforce included representatives from the following organisations: Charis Grants, Charities Aid Foundation, Christians against Poverty, People Advice, Energy UK, Energy Saving Trust, Feeding Britain, IPPR, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Money and Mental Health Institute, National Energy Action, npower, Trussell Trust, Citizens Advice Bureau, Fuel Bank Foundation and Turn2Us. 
  3. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.