Food bank items on table

Rise in demand for food banks puts spotlight on benefits system

37% more food parcels distributed by Trussell Trust in last year, including more than a million for children
11 May 2023 , Kerry Taylor-Smith

Trust says increased demand is due to ongoing low levels of income and an ill-equipped social security system, not just rise in cost of living

Almost three million emergency food parcels were given to people facing hardship between April 2022 and March 2023, more than double distributed by Trussell Trust food banks in the same period five years ago, and a 37% increase compared to last year.

Of 2,986,203 parcels, more than a million were for children. Over 760,000 people used a Trust food bank for the first time, a 38% increase from last year.

“We are experiencing an unprecedented rise in the number of people coming to the food bank, particularly employed people who are no longer able to balance a low income against rising living costs,” said Brian Thomas, Chief Executive, South Tyneside Foodbank. “We’re also seeing a really high number of families needing support as people struggle to afford the essentials.”

December was the busiest month on record, with a parcel distributed every eight seconds. However, Thomas says food donations are not matching the significant increase in demand: “It’s a real pressure cooker situation for food banks.”  

Emma Revie, Chief Executive, Trussell Trust said the “extremely concerning” statistics show an increasing number of people have no option but to turn to food banks to make ends meet.

“This is not right,” she said. “The continued increase in parcel numbers over the last five years indicates that its ongoing low levels of income and a social security system that isn’t fit for purpose that are forcing more people to need food banks, rather than just the recent cost-of-living crisis.”  

Food banks are not a lasting solution, Revie said: “If we are to stop this continued growth and end the need for food banks then the government must ensure that the standard allowance of Universal Credit is always enough to cover essential costs."

Research from the Trussell Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates essential items (utilities, travel, food, hygiene and cleaning products) currently cost a single person £120 per week; the weekly Universal Credit standard allowance is £85.

“14 million people, including four million children, are worried about where their next meal is coming from.”

The charities are calling for an ‘Essentials Guarantee’ to ensure Universal Credit payments always provide enough to cover the essentials, based on what people need and how much they actually cost.

"The soaring cost of food has had a devastating impact on people already struggling to make ends meet, including an increasing number of families,” said Lindsay Boswell, CEO of FareShare. “Unfortunately, this means the charities we support are experiencing even greater demand, when they are already confronted by huge challenges in providing enough food for people in need. 14 million people, including four million children, are worried about where their next meal is coming from.”

The UK’s food poverty rate is among the highest in Europe suggest Local Government Association (LGA) figures. The LGA cite lack of income as the principal driver of hunger, food poverty and food-related health inequalities, and agrees that the government must adequately resource the national benefits system to enable people to meet basic living costs.

“Councils have been providing vital cost-of-living support for the most disadvantaged in our communities, including distributing crisis payments to families…as well as allocating funding to food banks,” said an LGA spokesperson. “If we are to have a future without the need for food banks, then we need to tackle the root causes of poverty and drivers of destitution.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

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