A Cornish foodbank has said that some children in Cornwall are literally facing starvation, as it called for a welfare system that does more to help struggling families before they reach crisis point.
The Camborne Pool and Redruth foodbank, which helps low-income households in one of the most deprived regions in the country, hands out 10,000 meals to hard-up households every month.
Donovan Gardner, who works at the foodbank, says he is often struck by the severe plight faced by families who are struggling to afford food for their children.
Speaking to ITV News, Mr Gardner said: “We know there are children out there starving and that really does hurt.
“You know we get children in here and they see some sweets which have been given to us and they fall on them as if they’ve never seen sweets before.
“We’ve had ladies and men come in here tears running down their face and said I’ve never done this before.
“I’ve worked for forty years and I’ve suddenly got made redundant and they stand there with a voucher in their hand and they’re almost afraid to think that we’re going to give them the third degree. Instead we’re just here to love and care for them.”
Mr Gardner said the welfare system needs to step in far sooner, long before families and individuals find themselves in financial crisis and unable to make ends meet.
“I think the welfare state needs to get down to the shop floor level and if you help people early on, they won’t get in such a state”, he said.
“The benefit system in my opinion kicks in too late, and some of the problems are already there.”
The Trussell Trust foodbank network handed out 1,182,954 three-day emergency food supplies to people in need during 2016-17, up from 1,109,309 in the previous financial year.
The primary reasons for referrals to Trussel Trust foodbanks are low income, benefit delays, and changes to the social security system, highlighting how welfare reform is driving up demand and leaving vulnerable people hungry and penniless.
Research by the charity discovered a 16.85% average increase in referrals for emergency food in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out to single people, couples and families.
Benefit delays and welfare changes remain the biggest cause of referral to a foodbank, accounting for a staggering 43% of all in 2016-17 – up one percentage point when compared to 2015-16.
Commenting on those findings, David McAuley, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, said: “The move to simplify an often complex welfare system is a welcome one but any large reform can have unforeseen consequences.
“Foodbanks see first-hand how changes to the welfare system affect people on the ground, and so can offer an early warning to decision-makers.”
Mr McAuley added: “To stop UK hunger we must make sure the welfare system really does work for everyone.”