The Trussell Trust, the UK's biggest network of food banks, says that despite signs of recovery, the poorest have seen incomes squeezed even more than last year, with a 163 per cent rise in the number of people using its food banks on the previous financial year (see info-graphic).
The number of people using food banks in the financial year 2013-14 is 913,138, up from 346,992 in 2012-13.
Trussell Trust food banks provide three days’ emergency food and support to people that have been referred by frontline care professionals such as doctors, social workers and children’s centres.
The Trust claims that static incomes, rising living costs, low pay, underemployment and problems with welfare, especially sanctioning, have caused more people to be referred to them for emergency food. Half of referrals to food banks in 2013-14 was a result of benefit delays or changes.
Despite a rise in the number of people using food banks, there has only been a 45 per cent rise in the number of new Trussell Trust food banks opening in the last year. According to the Trust, the rate of new food banks opening has reduced from three a week in 2012-13 to two a week in 2013-14.
On top of this, new findings from a survey of 2,178 working families, conducted by Netmums, reveal that one in five have had to choose between paying an essential bill or putting food on the table in the last 12 months.
More than 40 per cent of parents said they are ‘just about coping’ with balancing their family budgets, while a quarter stated they have suffered stress as a result of not eating properly.
One in 40 of those surveyed had turned to a food bank for help, with more than 70 per cent saying they would only do so as a last resort.
The figures come a day after the first call for evidence for an All Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into hunger and food poverty led by Labout MP Frank Field, Bishop of Truro Tim Thornton and Conservative MP Laura Sandys.
Meanwhile, campaign group End Hunger Fast, supported by the Trussell Trust, charity Church Action Poverty, the Quakers religious group and human rights advocate Just Fair are to deliver a letter today to the leaders of the three main political parties calling for urgent Government action to be taken on UK food poverty.
The letter, which has more than 600 signatures, will be delivered by three church leaders who have been fasting for 40 days in solidarity with people facing hunger in this country.
Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust, said, ‘The figures are shocking in 21st century Britain. But perhaps most worrying of all is that they are only the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty as the figures don’t include those helped by other emergency food providers, those living in towns where there is no food bank or people who are too ashamed to seek help.
‘In the last year we’ve seen things get worse, rather than better, for many people on low incomes. It’s been extremely tough for a lot of people, with parents not eating properly in order to feed their children, and more people than ever experiencing seemingly unfair and harsh benefits sanctions.
‘Unless there is determined policy action to ensure that the benefits of national economic recovery reach people on low incomes, we won’t see life get better for the poorest anytime soon.
‘A more thoughtful approach to the administration of the benefits regime and sanctions in particular, increasing the minimum wage, introducing the living wage and looking at other measures such as social tariffs for essentials like energy would help to address the problem of UK hunger.’