Social Justice

Emergency food parcels given to two children in UK every minute

Gaps in the welfare system were the main driver behind a "historic" number of people forced to rely on food banks last year, the Trussell Trust said

A child eating biscuits. The food banks charity does not expect demand to decrease any time soon, with universal credit set to be cut by £20 per week in September.

The food banks charity does not expect demand to decrease any time soon, with universal credit set to be cut by £20 per week in September. Image: Pexels

The number of people forced to rely on food banks has soared by 128 per cent in the past five years, according to new figures, as food aid centres across the UK recorded “historic levels of need”.

The Trussell Trust gave out 2.5 million emergency food parcels last year – a 1.5 million increase since 2016 – with nearly a million of those going to children, amounting to two every minute.

“To feel that we have solved the problem because we have provided food is very dangerous,” Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie said. “The answer cannot be to distribute more food. The problem is people not having enough money.”

Emergency food demand jumped 33 per cent between 2019 and 2020 after pandemic redundancies, income cuts and increased living costs pushed thousands into poverty. 

Parcels are usually designed to last three days, but one in 10 of those handed out last year were made to feed someone for seven days, increasing the volume of food given away by 53 per cent between 2019 and 2020.

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“We are committed to supporting the lowest-paid families and have targeted support to those most in need by raising the living wage, spending hundreds of billions to safeguard jobs, boosting welfare support by billions and introducing the £269m Covid local support grant to help children and families stay well-fed,” a government spokesperson said.

A record six million people were claiming universal credit by the beginning of this year, and the Trussell Trust said its own figures from its 1,471 centres accounted for only a small amount of the food aid given out across the UK by charities and councils.

“What we’ve seen over this year is people’s financial resilience eroded, people going into debt. More people are teetering on the edge, and this system is not equipped to catch them all,” Revie added.

Holes in the social security safety net were the main drivers behind food bank reliance last year, according to the charity, citing the low payments given to claimants, the benefit cap limiting families’ incomes and the five-week wait for a first universal credit payment.

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The crisis “has shown the unexpected can hit suddenly,” Revie added, asking the public to contact their local election candidates and demand a commitment to ending the need for food banks.

Demand for food aid across the country is unlikely to decrease any time soon, according to the report, with the financial effects of the pandemic expected to last well beyond lockdown and universal credit set to be cut by £20 per week in September.

The government spokesperson added: “We know that getting into well-paid work is the best route out of poverty, and our multibillion pound plan for jobs is helping people across the country rejoin the workforce as restrictions are eased.”

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