Social Justice

'A national emergency': The number of children needing food bank parcels is rising

The Trussell Trust said the government's failure to support the poorest risks turning the cost of living crisis into a "national emergency".

Food bank supplies on trollies.

Food banks are facing unprecedented demand as the cost of living bites. Photo: Sarah Wilson

The number of children being given food bank parcels hit 830,000 in the last 12 months, a 15 per cent rise on the previous year.

New figures from The Trussell Trust show the impact of the cost of living crisis as families struggle to afford essentials. The 830,000 parcels handed out to children between April 1 2021 and March 31 2022 by food banks in the charity’s network went up from 720,000 in 2019/20. 

The total number of parcels provided to children and adults exceeded two million, the highest number recorded outside of the pandemic. 

The Trussell Trust accused the government of failing to shield the poorest from the impact of the cost of living crisis, and called for benefits to be uprated in line with rising inflation

According to the charity’s figures, the scale of need has accelerated particularly dramatically in the last few months as inflation has soared, reaching a 30-year high of 7 per cent in March.

Between January and February 2022, food banks in the charity’s network recorded a 22 per cent increase in demand compared to the same period in 2020 as the costs of heat, groceries and other essentials began to increase.

Food bank managers are warning that the crisis could get worse in the coming months, with more people in need of support as prices and bills continue to rise. 

One Trussell Trust food bank manager said: “The people who come in are telling me they’re scared. People are beside themselves about what the next six months will bring.” 

The Trussell Trust said the government had failed to create “any security” for people on the lowest incomes, allowing the value of welfare payments to fall in real terms over the past few years. 

In October, chancellor Rishi Sunak removed the £20 per week uplift to universal credit introduced temporarily during the pandemic, a move which was widely condemned at the time by poverty charities. 

Though Sunak’s Spring Statement raised benefits by 3.1 per cent in March, this represented less than half the rate of inflation, which reached 7 per cent in the same month. 

The Trussell Trust said these policy decisions come on top of “a five-year freeze on benefits rates which means these payments are worth 11 per cent less than they were a decade ago”.

Tim, a 36-year-old from London, said he is struggling to make ends meet despite being in work and in receipt of universal credit.

“I’m trying to make the best out of the situation but have already had to use a food bank. I’ve also made the decision not to turn my heating on to save money and to go without certain types of food,” he said. 

The Trussell Trust has called on the government to take urgent action to strengthen the social security system so that it keeps pace with the cost of living, avoiding greater pressure on food banks. 

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The charity has called for an increase of at least 7 per cent to benefits, and in the longer term says the government must commit to a benefits system which provides enough money for people to avoid destitution.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said: “People are telling us they’re skipping meals so they can feed their children. They are turning off essential appliances so they can afford internet access for their kids to do their homework.

“How can this be right in a society like ours? And yet food banks in our network tell us this is only set to get worse as their communities are pushed deeper into financial hardship.

“There is still time for the UK government to do the right thing. We are calling on them to bring benefits in line with the true cost of living.

“By failing to make benefits payments realistic for the times we face, the government now risks turning the cost of living crisis into a national emergency.”  

Sabine Goodwin, Coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network said: “This alarming data represents just the tip of the food insecurity iceberg. Independent food banks are seeing unrelenting increases in need and are reaching breaking point.

“The chancellor must ensure that benefits are uprated in line with inflation at the very minimum. Food bank volunteers cannot continue to try to fill an ever-increasing gap with no end in sight. Immediate cash first interventions are essential.”

Thomas Cave, policy manager at charity Turn2us, said it should not be left to charities to “pick up the pieces of a failing social security system which is pushing millions of people to the doors of food banks”.

He added: “The soaring cost of living will no doubt force more families across the country into impossible choices of hardship over the coming months.

“Now more than ever, it is time for the government to reassess the effectiveness of our social security system to ensure everyone has enough to meet their essential costs. One of the most effective things the government can do is uprate benefits in line with inflation immediately. In the longer term, we need an overhaul of social security and crisis support so that no one is pushed into destitution.”

  

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