“Taking from Peter to pay Paul”: The experience of people in receipt of fuel and food vouchers from a UK foodbank

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For people on very low incomes, household fuel and food environments are increasingly uncertain. Many live in precarious situations with little control over their lives. In addition to food parcels, many foodbanks also supply emergency fuel payments. There has been a surge in demand due to the cost of living crisis in the United Kingdom. This qualitative study, using semi-structured interviews, explored the lived experience of people who received a fuel voucher via a foodbank to gain insights into food preparation, eating practices and heating and appliance use in their homes. All participants (n = 6) described a change in life circumstances leaving them at crisis point with overwhelming uncertainty. Using Thematic Analysis, we identified four themes: (1) Bewilderment in using foodbank services; (2) The need to make trade-offs between food and fuel; (3) Feeling shame at using the services and (4) Missing out on pleasurable eating practices. Three case studies give fuller insights and context. All interviewees had acute and complex needs and described being ‘at rock bottom’, with fuel vouchers viewed as a ‘lifeline’ to address essential cooking, heating and electrical appliance needs. We, therefore, suggest the need for extra support and follow-up for first-time users who are in a state of denial and shock when seeking help. Further research is needed on how to best help organisations develop strategies to address and ameliorate a sense of powerlessness and shame felt by their clients which likely limits them from seeking help, despite being in acute, complex and dire need.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)500-512
Number of pages13
JournalNutrition Bulletin
Issue number4
Early online date18 Sep 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Inequalities
  • food insecurity
  • fuel insecurity
  • Socio-economic factors

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