More people than ever turning to food banks, charity says

Trussell Trust reveals steepest increase in five years as it hands out 823,000 emergency food parcels in six months

More people than ever are being forced to turn to food banks, after welfare problems over the last six months have led to the steepest increase in emergency food parcel handouts in five years, according to the anti-poverty campaign the Trussell Trust.

The trust, which runs two-thirds of the UK’s food banks, said it distributed a record 823,145 food parcels between April and September, including 301,653 that went to children. This was a 23% increase on the same period last year, representing the steepest rise the charity has witnessed since its network of food banks was fully established.

Food parcel increase, 2014-19

The top three reasons cited by people needing emergency food were insufficient benefit income, at 36%, followed by delays in benefit payments at 18% and changes to benefit at 16%.

The latest six-month statistics on food bank use underline research released last week, which found that welfare changes such as universal credit and the bedroom tax were driving the increased use of food banks. The Trussell Trust’s State of Hunger report estimated that one in 50 UK households used a food bank in 2018-19 and at least 3m food parcels were given out.

This week’s statistics, which come a month before the general election, have also thrust the issue of hunger into the election campaign.

The links between welfare changes, food bank use and destitution are fiercely contested. Ministers have largely refused to acknowledge clear evidence of any association between extreme poverty and welfare policies that have cut tens of billions of pounds from the benefits budget. But Labour accused the government of pushing people into destitution.

The Trussell Trust called on politicians of all parties to pledge to protect people from hunger. It is demanding an end to the five-week wait for universal credit payments, a commitment to ensure benefit payments cover the basic costs of living, and investment in emergency support for people in crisis.

Emma Revie, the trust’s chief executive, said she was especially alarmed by the steep rise in food bank use because unlike previous sharp rises, it has come at a time when the number of food banks has remained stable.

She said: “What’s really concerning us is the steepness of the increase – 23% compared with the same period last year is such a step up. We’re really worried about what the coming winter is going to look like.”

She added: “Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty, but currently thousands of women, men and children are not receiving sufficient protection from destitution.

“We want our next government to start working towards a future where no one needs a food bank by ending the five-week wait for universal credit; ensuring benefit payments cover the cost of living; and investing in local emergency support for people in crisis. It’s in our power as a country to end the need for food banks. This can change.”

Margaret Greenwood, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “It should be a source of shame for this government that food bank use has risen so sharply yet again. These figures show clearly how harsh, punitive Conservative policies like the five-week wait for universal credit are pushing people to the point of destitution.

“When universal credit payments finally arrive they may not even cover the most basic living costs, leaving parents unable to feed their children.

“Labour will scrap universal credit, halve food bank usage within our first year in office and end it within three years. Nobody should ever be forced to turn to food banks to survive.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We spend over £95bn a year on welfare, and have simplified the benefits system through universal credit.

“Free school meals are provided for 1.3 million disadvantaged children, and up to £26m is also being invested in a breakfast club programme. People can get universal credit urgently if they need it and 95% of payments are made in full and on time.”


Matthew Weaver

The GuardianTramp

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