MORE food parcels have been distributed in the UK over the past year than ever before, according to new figures from the Trussell Trust, which supports more than 1300 foodbanks in the UK.
The charity’s annual figures show that almost three million food parcels have been given out since April 2022, and more than one million were provided for children. During December 2022, an emergency food parcel was handed out the equivalent of every eight seconds by staff and volunteers.
The three million parcels collected from the charity’s foodbanks represent a 37-per-cent increase in England on the previous year, and is the highest number of parcels the UK-wide network has ever distributed in a single year. Annual statistics from the trust show that more than 760,000 people used a foodbank for the first time, up more than one third in 2021-22.
The charity has suggested soaring inflation and energy costs as reasons for the increase in demand. The head of the South Tyneside Foodbank, Brian Thomas, said: “We are experiencing an unprecedented rise in the number of people coming to the foodbank — particularly employed people who are no longer able to balance a low income against rising living costs.”
He said that greater numbers of families were needing support with essentials, and that food donation levels were not keeping up with the significant increase in need. “This is putting us under a lot of strain. It’s a real pressure-cooker situation for foodbanks,” he said.
Demand for foodbanks has doubled over the past five years, and figures show an increase of 28 per cent over that period in the number of parcels being distributed through the trust’s network in every region of the UK. London had the highest distribution, where more than 384,000 parcels have been given out. Sheffield recorded the highest number of parcels distributed within a local authority area, with more than 68,000; and Newcastle-upon-Tyne had the highest number given out for families with children, with more than 25,000 parcels distributed during the past 12 months.
The chief executive of the Trussell Trust, Emma Revie, said: “These new statistics are extremely concerning, and show that an increasing number of people are being left with no option but to turn to charitable, volunteer-run organisations to get by, and this is not right.”
She said that the continued increase in parcel numbers over the past five years points to the fact that it is not just the recent cost of living crisis and the pandemic that have caused the crisis for so many families. “It is the ongoing low levels of income, and a social-security system that isn’t fit for purpose that are forcing more people to need foodbanks,” she said.
“For too long, people have been going without because social-security payments do not reflect life’s essential costs, and people are being pushed deeper into hardship as a result. If we are to stop this continued growth, and end the need for foodbanks, then the UK Government must ensure that the standard allowance of Universal Credit is always enough to cover essential costs.”
The Trussell Trust’s network of foodbanks is supported by almost 12,000 churches, as well as many community groups, local businesses, schools, and thousands of volunteers. Its long-term goal is to end the need for foodbanks, and to help ensure that everyone has the income they need to afford the essentials.
The charity is calling for changes to the social-security system. It has joined the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in urging the Government to embed in law an “essentials guarantee” that would ensure that Universal Credit payments always, at a minimum, provide enough to the cover the cost of essentials such as food, utilities, and vital household goods.
A former foodbank user, John, aged 35, is quoted in the trust’s latest literature. He was forced to make use of a foodbank when he lost his home and his job. “When I was homeless, foodbanks saved me. They provided me with food, shower gels, and other necessities I couldn’t afford. The kindness I was shown there has stuck with me,” he said.
He now volunteers at his local foodbank three days a week. “Ultimately, foodbanks shouldn’t be needed in the first place; everyone should be able to afford to buy their own food and afford the essentials.”
Research by the charity suggests that the £85 weekly Universal Credit standard allowance is at least £35 less than the weekly cost of essential items for a single person.
The head of church engagement for the Trussell Trust, the Revd Jessica Foster, said that churches had a key part to play as part of their campaign for change. “Churches have provided incredible support over the years for food banks. We would really encourage them to back the ‘essentials guarantee’, to come on board, to raise their voices, to lobby MPs, and to have this as part of the national conversation that we need.”
Although the Trussell Trust is the largest single organiser of foodbanks, its figures do not fully represent the scale of use across the UK. The Independent Food Aid Network has identified at least 1172 independent foodbanks, as well as Salvation Army foodbanks and foodbanks run from schools and hospitals. There are also thousands of other food-aid providers, including soup kitchens and social supermarkets.