Hundreds of “hidden” food banks have revealed record levels of food poverty in the UK.
Research from the Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan) indicates that the true level of food poverty is higher than previously estimated.
The findings came as TUC analysis showed the average yearly wage is £1,200 lower in real terms than it was in 2008.
Unite said a Labour government would reverse shrinking pay and rising poverty by increasing the minimum wage, banning zero hour contracts and reforming the benefit system.
Ifan mapped more than 2,000 food banks across the country, 651 of which were local organisations independent of the Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest food bank operator.
In April, the Trussell Trust said the number of people using its services had increased by 7 percent during the last year. The trust provided a record 1,182,954 three-day emergency packages between April 2016 and March 2017, compared to 1,109,309 the year before and just 25,899 in 2008/09.
However, Ifan’s findings show that levels of food poverty in the UK are even higher. Alongside 1,373 Trussell Trust food banks, the network mapped 651 independent food banks – bringing the total number of food banks operating in the UK to 2,024.
The Trussell Trust have said “significant problems” with last year’s introduction of the Universal Credit (UC) benefit system – which is used to pay all benefits and tax credits, including child tax credits, unemployment allowances and in-work benefits – were the primary cause for the increase in food bank usage.
Food banks in areas were the system had been rolled out in full reported a 17 per cent increase in demand, compared to an average increase of 7 per cent nationally.
Changes and delays to benefits were the biggest cause for referral for food parcels, making up 43 percent of the total, while referrals due to low income increased by 3 per cent to 26 per cent.
Ifan researcher, Sabine Goodwin, described food bank usage as a “national crisis that cannot be underestimated”.
She said, “People arrive regularly into food banks across the country not having eaten for days while the government hasn’t even begun to monitor food poverty.”
Food banks have proliferated at the same time as wages have declined. New TUC research shows that on average workers are still £1,200 worse off in real terms than they were before the 2008 crash.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said, “Politicians have to explain to voters how they’ll create decent jobs that people can actually live on… Hard-working nurses shouldn’t have to use food banks to get by.”
Under the Tories
Head of Unite Community, Liane Groves, said only a vote for Labour would prevent poverty increasing.
She said, “Unfortunately the harsh reality of food banks are part and parcel of life under the Tories. As well as forcing some of the most vulnerable to rely on food banks through draconian welfare cuts, the Conservatives have also presided over an increase in food bank use amongst working people.
“The rise of insecure low paid work, a cost of living crisis and cuts to in-work benefits mean that some cannot afford to eat even if they have a job.
“By putting a stop to zero hour contracts, raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour and reforming the cruellest and most damaging aspects of the benefit system, a Labour government would reverse the trend in food bank use and put a stop to what is truly a national shame.”