Close to 1.6 million hard-up Brits were forced to turn to food banks over the last twelve months, according to shocking new figures from the UK’s largest food bank network.
New data released today by the Trussell Trust reveal that record numbers of people used food banks between April 2018 to March 2019, with the charity pointing the finger of blame firmly at the UK Government’s controversial Universal Credit regime.
During the past year, 1,583,668 three-day emergency food supplies were given to people in crisis in the UK, with more than half a million of these (577,618) going to children – an 18.8% increase on the previous year.
Struggling households cited insufficient benefit payments (33%) as one of the primary reasons for needing to use a food bank, and almost half of all referrals (49%) were linked to problems with Universal Credit such as delayed payments.
Shirley needed to use a food bank after being left unable to pay rent and now volunteers for the Trussell Trust.
She said: “No one should need to ever use a food bank but sometimes things happen to people that are completely out of their control like an illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job.
“I was thrown into an unknown world. I didn’t have any money for three months while waiting for Universal Credit. I couldn’t pay my rent and I had to work out whether to eat in the morning or the afternoon because I didn’t have enough money for the basics.
“The food bank got me back on my feet and offered me hope that things would get better. I’m a great believer in giving back and that’s why I volunteer my time at Southwark Foodbank.
“People shouldn’t feel embarrassed if they’re forced to use a food bank – they are there to help you.”
The nationwide charity has now called for an end to the minimum five week wait for an initial Universal Credit payment. The Government reduced the waiting time from six to five weeks, but critics say this is still too long.
The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said: “What we are seeing year-upon-year is more and more people struggling to eat because they simply cannot afford food. This is not right.
“Enough is enough. We know this situation can be fixed – that’s why we’re campaigning to create a future where no one needs a food bank.
“Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty. Universal Credit should be part of the solution but currently the five week wait is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics.
“As a priority, we’re urging the government to end the wait for Universal Credit to ease the pressure on thousands of households.
“Ultimately, it’s unacceptable that anyone should have to use a food bank in the first place.
“No charity can replace the dignity of having financial security. That’s why in the long-term, we’re urging the Government to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living and work is secure, paying the real Living Wage, to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty.”
Margaret Greenwood MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “The sharp rise in food bank use over the last year is shocking, and the need for emergency food parcels in one of the richest countries of the world is shameful. Nobody in our society should be forced to turn to food banks to survive.
“Despite Ministers’ attempts to explain away food bank use, the Trussell Trust is very clear that cuts to social security and the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments are key reasons for the rise.
“Labour will end the benefits freeze, stop the rollout of Universal Credit and ensure that our social security system supports any one of us should we need it.”