As much as 1.2 million emergency food bank supplies were given out to hungry families over the past year with the government’s changes to benefits largely blamed for the record-high figures.
Britain’s biggest food bank charity the Trussell Trust said yesterday it provided 1,182,954 three-day food supplies to people in crisis in the year to March - 70,000 more compared with the previous 12 months.
Almost 440,000 of the supplies went to children, the charity said.
And three million children are at risk of going hungry during the school holidays when there is also an increased use of food banks when they don’t get free school meals, according to a report by a cross-party panel of MPs and peers.
Labour shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams called the grim tally “a damning condemnation of the Tories’ economic failure” and said her party would reverse benefit cuts and boost wages.
In areas where the government’s penny-pinching universal credit benefit was introduced, food bank use shot up by 17 percent. This was down to the six-week waiting period for the first universal credit payment.
Benefit delays and changes remain the biggest cause of someone being referred to the Trussell Trust’s 420 food banks by a front-line worker such as a doctor, social worker or jobcentre adviser.
An engineer who was made redundant after 37 years said that he struggled to find another job and he had to wait six to eight weeks before receiving his first benefit payment while feeling very depressed.
He said: “It was only when I could no longer ask family and friends for money that I turned to Citizens Advice for help - it referred me to the food bank.
“Without the food bank, I honestly don’t know where I’d be. I was living on nothing during that period.”
“The rampant use of benefit sanctions has also had a devastating impact,” warned Abrahams.
“Labour will implement a real living wage, reverse damaging cuts to support for working people, scrap the punitive Tory sanction regime and invest in growing our economy so that we all benefit not just the few.”
Trussell Trust chief executive David McAuley said that changes to benefits under the universal credit scheme - which is being rolled out in a number of regions - need to be reworked so that people don’t go hungry.
He said: “We are sharing our early observations with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure any adverse side-effects universal credit can have on people are addressed before full rollout is completed.”
Meanwhile, the all-party parliamentary group on hunger said the government should use £100,000 raised from the sugary drinks tax to help councils support schemes to feed hungry children when not at school.
Disturbing examples include a youngster who vomited during the holidays because their diet consisted of only crisps, and malnourished children dropping out of the later stages of a football tournament because their “bodies simply gave up on them.”
*This story first appeared on the Morning Star.com.