The number of people receiving emergency food rations has more than doubled in the last 12 months as inflation has eroded incomes and government spending cuts have pushed thousands of people and families into crisis.
The Trussell Trust Charity runs the largest network of food banks in the UK. It has seen referrals to its centres jump to 350,000 in the year up to April 2013, from 130,000 in the year up to April 2012. The charity estimates that 50% of the households it helps had at least one person in work and 33% have children.
The Trussell Trust has had a 170% increase in demand for food rations. The trust does not accept walk-in requests for help. Food is only given to those referred by a GP, Jobcentre, social worker or the police. With 50% of food being given to working households, the effects of low-paid, part-time, temporary jobs can be seen on society.
90% of food bank supplies are donated from the public. The centres are mainly staffed by volunteers.
The Salvation Army also run food schemes. The demand for Salvation Army food parcels is greater than ever as more families struggle to put food on the table
Simon Wright of the Salvation Army says, “A lot of people we see are in work. One group of donors was really shocked at the concept of the working poor. We know of many people who are doing everything they can. They’re in a job, they can’t find a job which pays more, they’re paying rent, water, Council Tax, electric and they honestly struggle to buy food for their families”.
Current figures of food bank users pre-date 1 April 2013 when a whole raft of government welfare cuts began. The numbers will significantly increase because of cuts to housing benefit, the impositions of a benefits cap and the bedroom tax.
The United Nations spokesperson on food, Oliver de Schutter, has warned that food banks should not be seen as a “substitute” for a functioning welfare system.
Denise Bentley of the Tower Hamlets food bank said, “We are being so pressured to fill the gap that is now being created by the welfare reforms – were, not that, we’re meant to be a short-term help.”
The Trussell Trust is opening three new food banks every week and how has 345 in the UK. There has been a 15% increase in the number of food banks in the last 12 months – but a 170% increase in referrals.
Chris Maxwell, Chairperson of the Trussell Trust says, “The fundamental thing is more and more people are living an increasingly precarious life financially”.