EVEN before energy prices rose sharply this month, there was a 22-per-cent increase in foodbank use in the first two months of the year, new figures reveal.
The Trussell Trust’s latest data show that more than 2.1 million food parcels were handed out in the past year in its 1300 foodbank centres, 830,000 of which were for children: a 15-per-cent rise on pre-pandemic levels.
Foodbank managers are now warning of an accelerating crisis in the UK after the cut to Universal Credit, as the cost of living soars and the energy-price-cap rise begins to take effect. The charity fears that hundreds of thousands more will need foodbanks over the next few months.
One foodbank manager said: “The people who come in are telling me they’re scared. People are beside themselves about what the next six months will bring.”
The demand for food parcels in the Trussell Trust network has dramatically increased throughout the past six months, their latest statistics, published on Wednesday, show. Last summer, there was a ten-per-cent increase in parcels handed out on the same period in 2019; in the autumn, the increase climbed to 17 per cent, and, in January and February, there was a 22-per-cent rise in demand for food aid.
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has joined the charity in calling on the Government to take urgent action now to prevent destitution.
He said: “I’m deeply concerned by the latest figures from the Trussell Trust, which paint a bleak picture of acute need across the country. The plight of families will only get worse as we see inflation at its highest level in a generation and soaring energy bills.
“Too many families are being pushed deeper into poverty, and being left with no option but to use a foodbank. This simply isn’t right, and we all deserve the dignity of being able to put food on the table to feed our families. But there is still time for the Government to take action and put more money into the pockets of people at the sharpest end of this crisis. That’s why I’m calling on them to act with compassion, and give people the dignity of being able to put food on the table.”
Charities have urged the Government to increase benefit payments in line with inflation, after they rose just 3.1 per cent this month.
The Trussell Trust said that a previous five-year freeze on benefit rates means that the payments are worth 11 per cent less than they would have been a decade ago.
Earlier this month, the Independent Food Aid Network of more than 550 foodbanks wrote to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, warning of the “scale of suffering” which they were seeing across the country.
Tim, aged 36, a foodbank user from London, works in a high-street shop and is in receipt of Universal Credit. He said: “I’m really worried about what the next few months could be like, as the cost of living gets higher and higher. I’m trying to make the best out of the situation, but have already had to use a foodbank. I’ve also made the decision not to turn my heating on, to save money, and to go without certain food.”
The Trussell Trust’s chief executive, Emma Revie, said: “Parents are telling us they’re skipping meals so they can feed their children, and that they are turning off essential appliances so they can afford internet access for their kids to do their homework. How can this be right in a society like ours?
“And yet foodbanks in our network tell us this is only set to get worse as their communities are pushed deeper into financial hardship. No one’s income should fall so dangerously low that they cannot afford to stay fed, warm, and dry.
“By failing to make benefits payments realistic for the times we face, the Government now risks turning the cost-of-living crisis into a national emergency. Together with Bishop Paul, we are urging the UK Government to bring benefits in line with the true cost of living as a bare minimum, and longer term to strengthen our social security system so no one struggles to stay fed, warm, and dry.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We recognise the pressures on the cost of living, and we are doing what we can to help, including spending £22 billion across the next financial year to support people with energy bills, and cut fuel duty.
“For the hardest hit, we’re putting an average of £1000 more per year into the pockets of working families on Universal Credit, have also boosted the minimum wage by more than £1000 a year for full-time workers, and our Household Support Fund is there to help with the cost of everyday essentials.”