Data released by Trussell Trust, a charity working to end the need for food banks in the United Kingdom, has shown that food bank usage has reached a record level high.
According to the charity, 750,000 people have started using food banks for the first time in the last 12 months, while they have delivered 3 million food parcels over the same period to those in need. This was a 37% increase on the previous 12 months.
What’s more, one in five people who have used one of Trussell Trust’s food banks over the past year are in work and one million of the households with children have been in receipt of food parcels.
The charity believes that the data is further proof that the UK’s cost of living crisis is worsening by the week with many people struggling to pay for basic food due to soaring energy prices and a sharp rise in food costs at supermarkets.
They have also warned that the true picture will be even worse than the data they have published as the Trust only operates in three-quarters of UK local authority areas. This is backed up by the Government’s own figures which estimate that only 14% of people in severe food insecurity visit food banks.
An unprecedented rise in food bank usage
Key figures within the Trust have expressed their horror at the findings, with many of them expecting food bank usage to sharply drop in the wake of the COVID pandemic, not spike even further. Trussell Trust’s Chief Executive, Emma Review, said that she had believed the high demand during COVID would be a “once-in-a-lifetime level of need”.
Food parcel distribution has nearly doubled over the past five years with the Trust distributing 1.4m in 2018. The strain is also having an impact on the Trust itself which had to spend £7.5m on food last year to replenish stock – 4m more than the previous year.
According to their data, which was gathered by each of their 1646 outlets, the need for food is being felt more in certain regions than others, with the North East’s figures rising the most. However, no region in the UK saw less than a 28% rise in food parcel distribution illustrating that this is very much a national problem.
Talking about the startling figures, Brian Thomas, the Chief Executive of Trussell’s South Tyneside food bank, said “We are expiring 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.”
As Thomas touches on, in previous years the majority of people using food banks were unemployed and/or homeless. However, this has now changed as people in low-paid and insecure jobs are increasingly being plunged into in-work poverty and therefore becoming reliant on food banks.
Pressure on the Government
Last year, the government made one-off cost-of-living payments to help-income households but the evidence suggests that this did very little to make any sort of meaningful difference. Although food bank usage fell slightly in the weeks following the payment, it didn’t take long for them to quickly spike again not long after.
Sabine Goodwin, a coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, told the Guardian that she believes the government needs to increase welfare benefits if there is to be a lasting impact on those struggling to pay for food. She also called on food bank users to be given cash or food vouchers instead of food parcels.
Meanwhile, the Trussell Trust has called for a change in the Law so that welfare benefits are brought in line with the real costs of food and energy. Based on research conducted by the Trust, they believe that the current benefit levels are around £140 less than they need to be.
In response, a Government spokesperson has stated “we are committed to eradicating poverty and we recognise the pressures of the rising cost of living crisis which is why we have uprated benefits by 10.1% as well as making an unprecedented increase to the national living wage this month. This is on top of changes already made to universal credit which mean claimants can keep more of their hard-earned money – a boost worth £1,000 a year on average.”
The data published by the Trussell Trust is damning, to say the least. The fact that nearly one million people have had to use a food bank for the first time in 2023 is quite simply something that the Government should not tolerate.
The rising costs of food and energy will continue to cripple millions of people in the United Kingdom until the government addresses the situation quickly. Whether that be through more payments to support those most in need, a rise in welfare benefits, or firmer taxes on energy suppliers, something needs to be done.