Record numbers of starving people are turning to food banks to help feed themselves and their families, shocking new figures reveal.
More than one million people received three-days worth of emergency food from the charity Trussell Trust in the year 2014/15, compared to more than 900,000 in the previous year.
The figures published by the Trussell Trust, supported by the Faculty of Health and Children’s Society, reveal the unquestionable reality of food poverty in Britain today – and the plight faced by so many families struggling to make ends meet.
A total of 1,084,604 people were given food parcels by the charity in the last year, including 396,997 hungry children – up 19% from 2013/14.
Meanwhile, the total number of food banks launched by Trussell Trust rose by just 5%, quashing claims made by some government ministers that rising food bank use is linked to the increased availability of ‘free food’.
Benefit delays and sanctions remain the largest driver of food bank use, but the figures also suggest that there has been a significant rise in the number of people on low-incomes requiring food aid.
Low-income referrals to Trussell Trust food banks, just one of many charities and organisations supporting the poorest in society, has grown by 20% since 2013/14.
The number of people citing benefit delays and changes as the main reason for turning to food banks has decreased slightly from 48% to 44%.
Referrals due to sickness, homelessness, delayed wages and unemployment have also increased slightly.
According to Trussell Trust, 10,280 tonnes of food were donated by the public last year.
A recent survey of 86 food banks provided greater clarity as to why people are turning to food banks. The main reasons given were low income, delays in benefit payments, sanctions and debt.
Mother of two, Susan says: “I have an 18 month old son and an eight year old stepson, I work part time as a teacher and my husband has an insecure agency contract.
“There are times when he doesn’t get enough hours of work, and we really struggle to afford food and pay the bills. The food bank meant we could put food on the table.”
Trussell Trust UK food bank director Adrian Curtis said: “Despite welcome signs of economic recovery, hunger continues to affect significant numbers of men, women and children in the UK today.
“It’s difficult to be sure of the full extent of the problem as Trussell Trust figures don’t include people who are helped by other food charities or those who feel too ashamed to seek help.”
Trussell Trust draws attention to the tragic story of a mum who was skipping meals to feed her children. “There are people out there more desperate than me. I’ve got a sofa to sell before I’ll go to the food bank”, she says.
“It’s a pride thing. You don’t want people to know you’re on benefits.”
Adrian Curtis continues: “Trussell Trust food banks are increasingly hosting additional services like debt counselling and welfare advice at our food banks, which is helping more people out of crisis.
“The Trussell Trust’s latest figures highlight how vital it is that we all work to prevent and relieve hunger in the UK.
“It’s crucial that we listen to the experiences of people using food banks to truly understand the nature of the problems they face; what people who have gone hungry have to say holds the key to finding the solution”
Marcella, a former dental assistant recovering from a spinal operation, was helped by a food bank and said: “It’s so hard to pay rent and survive at the moment. I have friends who are working minimum wage jobs who have had to go to food banks.
“People should not just be surviving, they should be able to live and have a life. I was less than surviving when I went to the food bank.
“Going to a food bank was very emotional for me, I felt a bit ashamed at not being able to support myself but they took the pressure off, they gave me advice and helped me to find a support worker.
“The food bank gave me faith that there are people who understand and who you can trust. We need to stop judging people and listen to every individual and understand how they got into the situation.”
Dr John Middleton, Vice President of Faculty of Public Health said: “The rising number of families and individuals who cannot afford to buy sufficient food is a public health issue that we must not ignore.
“For many people, it is not a question of eating well and eating healthily, it is a question of not being able to afford to eat at all.
“UK poverty is already creating massive health issues for people today, and if we do not tackle the root causes of food poverty now we will see it affecting future generations too.
“The increased burden of managing people’s health will only increase if we do not address the drivers of people to food banks.”
Over 90% of Trussell Trust food banks provide additional services alongside food to help people out of crisis long-term.