A major spike in food bank use has prompted the nation’s leading supplier of emergency food parcels to call on politicians of all parties to ensure they pledge to protect people from hunger — which only Labour has so far committed to do.
The Trussell Trust, which runs two-thirds of the UK’s food banks, has today (November 13) recorded its steepest ever rise in food bank use, with a record 823,145 food parcels distributed between April and September. More than a third of these — 301,653 — were given to children.
The Trussell Trust’s latest figures show an astounding 23 per cent rise from the same period last year. Since 2014, the number of food parcels given out by the food bank charity has nearly doubled from just over 400,000 five years ago.
The substantial rise in food bank use has occurred in lockstep with key changes to the benefits system, including the benefits freeze and the introduction of Universal Credit.
The Trussell Trust’s latest figures reflect these trends — the Trust found that 36 per cent of people turned to food banks because of low benefit income, with delays (18 per cent) or changes (16 per cent) to benefit payments being the other major reasons.
Universal Credit delays
Last week, the Trussell Trust released a report it commissioned that further investigated the overall rise in food bank use. The report, called State of Hunger, said that vulnerable families were being hit by three main drivers of hunger and poverty — these included problems with the benefits system, which was often compounded by ill health or a challenging life experience, as well as lack of local support.
The report cited the five week wait for a first Universal Credit payment as a key issue affecting people who are forced to turn to food banks. The Trust said a majority of food bank referrals given due to benefit delays were linked to Universal Credit.
“More people than ever before are being forced to food banks’ doors,” said Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie, commenting not the latest figures. “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.
“This is not right. But we know this situation can be fixed – our benefits system could be the key to unlocking people from poverty,” she added. “This General Election, all political parties must pledge to protect people from hunger by ensuring everyone has enough money for the basics. 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.
“Together, these three changes will put money back into the pockets of people who most need our support. It’s in our power as a country to end the need for food banks. This can change.”
Labour is so far the only party that has committed taking action and going beyond the Trussell Trust’s recommendations.
The party has explicitly pledged to abolish the benefits freeze, scrap Universal Credit and end the two-child limit imposed by the previous Tory government. The party has also said it would set targets to reduce food bank use. Its aims are to halve food bank use in its first year in office and end it completely within three years.
Meanwhile, the Tories’ record on Universal Credit and the suffering it has caused was again highlighted when last week, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned government ads praising the benefit reform.
The ASA said the ads, paid for by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to run in the Mail Online and Metro newspaper and designed to dispel so-called ‘myths’ about Universal Credit, were in fact misleading. Some of the misleading claims cited by the advertising watchdog included that first Universal Credit payments could be made sooner than five weeks and that the system helped people move into work more quickly — both were falsehoods.
In another embarrassment for the Tory party this week, Tory candidate for Wakefield Antony Calvert was forced to quit after previous social media comments he had made came to light in which he dismissed the rise in food bank use.
In a now deleted Facebook post, he said that if there was one “reason to be involved in public office” it was to expose what he called “ludicrous” claims over food poverty in the UK.
‘The choice is clear’
Unite Community national co-ordinator Liane Groves said the only way to truly tackle food poverty in the UK was to end Universal Credit and reform the entire benefits system.
“As Unite has long highlighted, Universal Credit in particular and the benefits system more generally has pushed families over the edge and into destitution,” she said. “Unite Community continues to campaign for an end to Universal Credit and for it to be replaced with a humane, well-funded system that truly protects people from hunger and poverty.
“In addition to campaigning on the issue nationally, Unite Community branches up and down the country have provided vital support — Unite Community Norfolk branch, for example, has for the last two years hosted a lunches project in Norwich which provides hot meals and other forms of support to local children and their families who would otherwise go hungry during the school holidays,” she added.
“But what’s needed to reverse the unacceptable trend of rising food poverty in the sixth richest nation in the world is root-and-branch reform of the benefits system,” Groves went on to say. “While the Tories continue to deny the problem even exists, Labour is the only party that has committed to systemic reforms that ensure people do not go hungry and can live in dignity. For us and all those who want a country free from poverty, the choice in December is clear.”