Nurses, shop assistants and youth workers are among large numbers of people in low-paid jobs forced for the first time to accept charity food parcels to stay afloat as the cost of living crisis transforms the profile of the typical UK food bank user.
Research by the Trussell Trust, Britain’s largest food bank network, found one in in five people referred to its 1,300 food bank centres in the summer were from households where someone worked. It also reported 145,000 families had used its food banks for the first time in recent months, an increase of 40%.
Examples of people in in-work poverty referred to Trussell Trust food banks in recent months include trainee nurses, teaching assistants, factory workers, retail assistants, delivery drivers and hospitality workers.
The Trussell Trust announced on Thursday morning it had given out record numbers of food parcels in the six months since April as shrinking incomes and rising bills drove a “tsunami” of need to its food banks. It gave out 1.3m food parcels over the period, a third more than during the same period in 2021.
“These new statistics show that, even in summer months, people are struggling to afford the essentials and we are expecting that this winter will be the hardest yet for food banks and the people they support. This is not right,” said Emma Revie, the Trussell Trust chief executive.
The increasing numbers of people holding down jobs while relying on the trust’s food parcels has persuaded some food banks in its network to open at 8am to allow people referred to them to pick up a food parcel on their way to work.
“Although we have a large proportion of people referred to us who are on benefits, we are seeing more and more people who are working, but whose wages have not increased in line with the rise in the cost of food, fuel and other items needed for a basic living standard,” said Gill Fourie, the operational manager at Blackburn food bank.
She added: “We are talking about anyone who is in a minimum wage job, or people on zero hours contracts. These people are often really struggling.”
Greenwich food bank head Jamie Ginns told the Guardian “lots of new faces were coming through the doors” of food banks, adding: “Basically, anyone that is on under £25,000 a year is in danger of using a food bank.”
Sharron, a youth worker from London in her 30s, told the Guardian she had had to use a Trussell Trust food bank while working part time. “Your dignity and pride takes a blow. You are working, you have a flat – how can you not afford to feed yourself? It strips you of your self-esteem.”
Ironically, the youth project she now works at is to start offering emergency food packages for the parents of some of the youngsters who attend, many of whom are really struggling. She would prefer those families were helped through higher wages but “sometimes there is no time for pride, it’s about survival”.
Five years ago a Trussell-funded study identified lone parents and single males, often on out of work benefits who experienced extreme poverty and often a disability as most likely to use food banks. While they are still heavily reliant on food banks, the new figures suggest they have been joined by an influx of low paid working families.
The trust, which is spending millions of pounds this winter buying food because food donations are not keeping track of rising demand for parcels, is calling on the chancellor to provide a broad package of support for low income families in next week’s budget, including raising benefits next April in line with inflation of 10.1%.
Sabine Goodwin, coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, said its 600 organisations including 550 non-Trussell Trust food banks, faced similarly unrelenting demand pressure from struggling families. “Relying on food charity is neither sustainable nor effective at reducing food insecurity,” she said.
A government spokesperson said: “We are directly supporting households in need following the aftershocks from the pandemic and Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine, including sending another Cost of Living Payment this month worth £324 to over 8 million people, part of a £1,200 package for those on the lowest incomes.”