Food bank use has skyrocketed by nearly 20 per cent over the last year, fuelled by Universal Credit delays, benefits cuts and low incomes.
The largest food bank provider in the UK, the Trussell Trust, reported its busiest year ever as it published figures today (April 25) showing that the charity handed out 1.6m emergency food parcels – more than half a million of which went to children.
In a stinging indictment of the government’s welfare policies, The Trussell Trust identified widespread delays to benefit payments under Universal Credit as one of the main reasons families had turned to their food banks. Delays represented a fifth of all reasons for referral to the Trussell Trust.
Low-income was the main driver of Trussell Trust food bank referrals, which represented a third of all referrals, while changes to benefits represented 17 per cent.
One Trussell Trust food bank user, Shirley, who has since become a volunteer for the charity, told of the struggles she faced under Universal Credit.
“I was thrown into an unknown world,” she said. “I didn’t have any money for three months while waiting for Universal Credit. I couldn’t pay my rent and I had to work out whether to eat in the morning or the afternoon because I didn’t have enough money for the basics.”
Universal Credit has long come under fire from critics including Unite, which has called for the government welfare reform to be scrapped altogether.
The Trussel Trust, which runs 1,200 food banks across the UK, said that this year’s 20 per cent jump in the number of food parcels it handed out reflects persistent upwards trend – over the last five years, emergency food supplies given out by the Trust have risen by 73 per cent.
The latest figures undermine an argument repeatedly put forward by the government that food bank use has increased only because the supply has increased – the Trussell Trust highlighted that in the last year, there was a net increase of only three Trust food banks.
The true extent of food bank use is not known because while the Trussell Trusts’ annual figures are meticulously recorded, the charity represents only about two-thirds of food banks in the UK. According to the Independent Food Aid Network, there are at least 800 food banks not overseen by the Trussel Trust.
The Trust today (April 25) called on the government to act on Universal Credit and the Living Wage.
“Ultimately, it’s unacceptable that anyone should have to use a food bank in the first place,” said Trussell Trust food bank chief executive Emma Revie.
“No charity can replace the dignity of having financial security. That’s why in the long-term, we’re urging the Government to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living and work is secure, paying the real Living Wage, to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty.”
Unite Community national co-ordinator Liane Groves agreed.
“These latest figures from the Trussell Trust come as no surprise and are a direct result of this Tory government ripping up our social security safety net,” she said.
“The DWP have been told time and again by advice agencies that people are suffering from the cuts George Osborne and Phillip Hammond inflicted on social security spending. Yet still the Tories continue with the roll out of Universal Credit despite knowing full well the debt and misery it causes claimants.
“The Tories chose tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest in society while cutting benefits for the poorest,” Groves added. “Families having to live with the indignity of relying on the charity of foodbanks matters not to the Tories. In fact they either welcome the charitable ethos behind foodbanks or they say that the people who use them are opportunists taking advantage of free food.
“Unite is demanding that Universal Credit is scrapped and that a social security system is introduced that delivers fairness and dignity to claimants.”