Social Justice

'We're at breaking point': Food banks see record number of first-time users as demand soars

The Trussell Trust's new annual figures show that more food parcels were handed out by food banks in its network than ever before last financial year

food bank

Stacking shelves at a Trussell Trust food bank. Image: Robin Prime/ Trussell Trust

More than 655,000 people needed to use a Trussell Trust food bank for the first time last year.

That is more people than ever before and a 40% increase from five years ago. It is a stark reminder that in spite of inflation easing, people are still battling to afford the essentials in the aftermath of Covid and the cost of living crisis.

New figures released by the Trussell Trust have also revealed that more than 3.1 million emergency food parcels were provided to people facing hardship between April 2023 and March 2024.

It is the first time it has surpassed the three million mark, a 4% increase on the previous year and nearly double the number of food parcels distributed five years ago.

More than 1.1 million of these food parcels went to children, as families remain overrepresented at food banks.

Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust said: “It’s 2024 and we’re facing historically high levels of food bank need. As a society, we cannot allow this to continue. We must not let food banks become the new norm.

“As we approach the next UK general election, we urgently need all political leaders to set out how they will build a future where no one needs a food bank to survive. Voters want to see a change and we need cross-government action at all levels to deliver it. We know what’s pushing people to food banks, so we know what needs to change.”



The Trussell Trust has warned that many people on the lowest incomes are set to be worse off this coming year than during the pandemic or when inflation was at a record high, because the government’s one-off cost of living payments have come to an end.

Helen Barnard, the director of policy, research and impact at the Trussell Trust, said: “Every food parcel stands for somebody who is probably going through the worst time in their lives.

“It’s heartbreaking. Our food banks are saying: ‘We are on our knees and we’re at breaking point.’ What I find scary is there is real potential for it to get worse in the coming year.”

The Trussell Trust seen a “concerning increase” in parcels going to pensioners, with 179,000 parcels provided to pension-age households, a 27% increase compared to last year, significantly higher than the average 4% increase across the network.

Rising poverty among pensioners, especially those still renting, means that more older people are finding themselves facing hunger and severe hardship.

Wendy Doyle, operations manager at Leeds South and East Foodbank said: “Our volunteers are telling us that they are dealing with pensioners who can’t afford to put food on the table due to having to pay higher energy costs and that is the choice they are having to make.

“A lady who came to the food bank recently told us that she had never had to use charity before. She said that she had always been able to manage, even while bringing four children up on her own, but when she came to the food bank she was in a situation where she had to choose between keeping warm or eating.”

The Trussell Trust is calling for urgent reform of the social security system to protect people from going without essentials. Alongside other organisations, and backed by the Big Issue, the charity is urging the UK government to introduce an ‘essentials guarantee’ into universal credit so that people can at least afford to survive.

Revie added: “A supportive social security system is the bedrock on which we end hunger for good. Building on this, we need much more effective employment and financial support for parents, carers and disabled people and action to ensure everyone can have the security we all need to access opportunities and have hope for the future, through more secure and flexible jobs and investment in social housing. 

“Food banks are not the answer. They will be there to support people as long as they are needed, but our political leaders must take bold action to build a future where everyone has enough money to afford the life’s essentials. The time to act is now.”

A DWP spokesperson claimed there are 1.1 million fewer people in absolute poverty compared to 2010 – absolute poverty is the government’s preferred measure. But it rose for the second year in a row in the year up to April 2023. Around 600,000 more people are living in absolute poverty.

They also claimed the government’s £108billion cost of living support package prevented 1.3 million people falling into poverty in 2022 to 2023, but much of this support – including cost of living payments and the energy rebate – has been taken away in spite of people still struggling.

The DWP spokesperson added: “After boosting benefits and raising the state pension, we’re putting more money in people’s pockets by raising the national living wage, cutting taxes and driving down inflation while investing billions through our Back to Work Plan to help over a million people break down barriers to work and become more financially secure.”

But the plans to push people, especially those with health conditions, has been repeatedly criticised by campaigners and charities who fear it is a “reckless assault” on disabled people.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Big Issue is demanding an end to poverty this general election. Will you sign our open letter to party leaders?

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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