Why are disabled people among those most likely to need food banks?

The Trussell Trust commissioned ScotCen to conduct a study exploring drivers of food insecurity among disabled people across the UK.
Image of shelves in a foodbank

About the study

Working towards their vision of a UK without the need for food banks, the Trussell Trust is looking for positive solutions to address the factors which are driving people to use food banks. This study explored reasons for the overrepresentation of disabled people accessing food banks and the underclaiming of disability benefits among people in disabled households. A key focus of the study was the potential impact of the design and delivery of the disability benefits system on disabled people’s food insecurity and food bank use. The current transition from Personal Independence Payment (PIP) to Adult Disability Payment (ADP) in Scotland allowed for further exploration of disabled people’s experiences of applying for PIP compared to ADP and whether changes to the claims process introduced in Scotland have improved disabled people’s ability to access disability benefits.


While the specific circumstances driving participants need for food aid were personal and complex, the common factor in food bank use was a lack of money. Financial insecurity was being driven by a range of factors, including exclusion from employment due to a lack of disability awareness among some employers; extra costs, above and beyond day-to-day living costs, to treat and manage impairments; and the cost-of-living-crisis.

Participants also identified a range of issues with the design and delivery of the disability benefits that were driving financial insecurity: disability benefit payment levels were too low to meet disability related extra costs; lack of awareness of eligibility criteria; and complex and potentially distressing and dehumanising claims processes.

Changes to the ADP claims process in Scotland were broadly welcomed, including the option to apply online, the removal of routine medical assessments, the provision of an independent advocacy service to support claimants, and an increase in the number of indefinite awards. However, some participants reported long waits for decisions, poor communication and technical problems with the online application. There was also disappointment that the eligibility criteria and amounts available to claim were unchanged from PIP.

Study participants identified changes to improve disabled people’s financial security, including increased promotion of disability benefits and the provision of well-funded, easily available and independent support to access entitlements. Involving disabled people in a person-centred redesign of the disability benefits system and an increase in the amount of financial support available were vital changes that were urgently needed. 


To address the research aims and objectives ScotCen conducted:

  1. A rapid evidence review to understand what is already known about the relationships between food bank use, disability and the disability benefits system.
  2. In-depth interviews with 57 people with a range of physical and mental health conditions and facing financial insecurity across the UK. Interviews took place between March and May 2023.