A near empty food cupboard. Photo: Oxfam.

“Benefit levels must keep pace with rising cost of essentials”, the Trussell Trust foodbank network has said, as record numbers of people in the UK struggle to put food on the table due to the inadequate welfare system.

Between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018, The Trussell Trust’s foodbank network distributed 1,332,952 three day emergency food supplies to people in desperate need – a 13% increase on the previous twelve months.

Perhaps most shocking of all is that 484,026 of these went to children, despite high employment levels and many families who are referred to foodbanks including a family member in work.

Trussell Trust, who operate hundreds of foodbanks across the UK, highlights the growing proportion of foodbank referrals due to benefit levels not covering essential living costs, which they claim is driving the rise in overall foodbank use.

However, the true scale of hunger in the UK is likely to be far higher than reported, because Trussell Trust is just one of many charities and other organisations/groups who operate foodbanks or run similar services.

Read more: Call to end benefits freeze as record numbers turn to foodbanks

Inadequate benefit payments accounted for 28% of referrals between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018, compared to 26% in the previous year. The other main reasons given were benefit delays and benefit changes, accounting for 24% and 18% of total referrals respectively.

A Trussell Trust foodbank. Photo credit: Newfrontiers via photopin cc

Trussell Trust’s report, ‘Left Behind: Is Universal Credit Truly Universal?’, draws particular attention to the Government’s flagship welfare reform. The charity says that whilst Universal Credit is not the only benefit people at foodbanks are experiencing issues with, it is a “significant” problem in many parts of the country.

Analysis found an average increase of 52% over 12 months in the number of foodbank referrals in areas where Universal Credit had been rolled-out, compared to 13% in parts of the country where it had not been fully introduced or had only been in place for less than 3 months.

Trussell Trust is calling for benefit levels to be uprated in line with inflation to ensure payments keep pace with living costs, with particular attention given to disability benefits and Child Benefit. They are also demanding “an urgent inquiry into poor administration within Universal Credit”, such as incorrect or delayed payments.

Source: Trussell Trust foodbank network.

Emma Revie, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, said: “As a nation we expect no one should be left hungry or destitute – illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job could happen to any of us, and we owe it to each other to make sure sufficient financial support is in place when we need it most.

“It’s hard to break free from hunger if there isn’t enough money coming in to cover the rising cost of absolute essentials like food and housing. For too many people staying above water is a daily struggle. It’s completely unacceptable that anyone is forced to turn to a foodbank as a result.

“Universal Credit is the future of our benefits system. It’s vital we get it right, and ensure levels of payment keep pace with the rising cost of essentials, particularly for groups of people we know are already more likely to need a foodbank – disabled people, people dealing with an illness, families with children and single parents.”

Source: Trussell Trust foodbank network.

Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, described the rise in foodbank use as “shocking” and “a source of national shame”.

She added: “Interviewees raised poor administration of Universal Credit again and again. Some people are still facing extremely long waits for an initial payment, pushing people into debt and arrears, with serious impacts on the health of many.

“The Government is still failing to fix Universal Credit and people are paying the price.”

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