UK

Food Banks Used By Around Half A Million People Last Year, Trussell Trust Figures Suggest

22/04/2015 07:44 BST | Updated 21/05/2015 13:59 BST

NOTE: This piece was amended in May 2015 to reflect the fact that around half a million people are believed to have used food banks, not over one million as originally reported

Around half a million Brits are thought to have used food banks in the last year, as more low-paid people are forced to get emergency help just to eat.

The Trussell Trust, the country's largest provider of food banks, said almost 400,000 children were among those receiving at least three days' of supplies from the charity's 445 food banks across the country in the past year.

The figure is not the total number of those receiving, as many small charities and churches also run food banks or schemes for handing out food to families in need.

food bank

The Trussell Trust's figures put the number of people using food banks at more than half a million

The Trussell Trust said there were 1,084,604 visits to food banks in the last financial year, an increase of 19% over 2013/14. On average, each person received two food vouchers in a year, it said, meaning that it is likely around half a million used the charity's services.

"My husband has an insecure agency contract. There are times when he doesn't get enough hours of work, and we really struggle to afford food and pay the bills" - Food bank user

Problems with benefits were the main reason people visited food banks, but the Trust said there had been an increase in those whose salaries weren't enough to afford food.

Food bank managers reported dealing with people struggling with insecure work and high living costs.

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Trussell Trust UK food bank director Adrian Curtis said: "Despite welcome signs of economic recovery, hunger continues to affect significant numbers of men, women and children in the UK today.

"It's difficult to be sure of the full extent of the problem as Trussell Trust figures don't include people who are helped by other food charities or those who feel too ashamed to seek help.

"The Trussell Trust's latest figures highlight how vital it is that we all work to prevent and relieve hunger in the UK.

"It's crucial that we listen to the experiences of people using food banks to truly understand the nature of the problems they face. What people who have gone hungry have to say holds the key to finding the solution."

A qualified teacher and mother of two who uses food banks, who asked not to be named, said: "I have an 18-month-old son and an eight-year-old stepson, I work part time as a teacher and my husband has an insecure agency contract.

"There are times when he doesn't get enough hours of work, and we really struggle to afford food and pay the bills. The food bank meant we could put food on the table."

food bank

The reasons people were referred to Trussell Trust food banks

Dr John Middleton, vice president of charity the Faculty of Public Health said: "The rising number of families and individuals who cannot afford to buy sufficient food is a public health issue that we must not ignore.

"For many people, it is not a question of eating well and eating healthily, it is a question of not being able to afford to eat at all. UK poverty is already creating massive health issues for people today, and if we do not tackle the root causes of food poverty now we will see it affecting future generations too.

"The increased burden of managing people's health will only increase if we do not address the drivers of people to food banks."

Carmel McConnell, chief executive of the Magic Breakfast charity, which delivers food to schools, said the new figure for children using food banks was "worrying".

He added: "Magic Breakfast has seen an increase in the number of hunger-hit schools applying for urgent food deliveries, and our waiting list now stands at 270 schools, which is an all time high.

"When children start their school day hungry, they cannot concentrate and risk missing the most important lessons of the day."

Last year the public donated 10,280 tonnes of food to food banks.

food bank

The number of people using food banks, broken down by region

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "This should make all of us ashamed, particularly those who claim we have a strong economy and everyone is sharing in the recovery.

"It tells us that the Government has done grave damage to the welfare safety net. Of course we should deal with those who abuse it, but vicious sanctions and benefit cuts - even for those who paid in all their working lives - are destroying the support any of us might need if we lose our job or have an accident."

Unite general secretary Len McClusky said: "The inescapable truth is that on the Tory party's watch food hunger has exploded - but as the Trussell Trust run only about a third of the nation's food banks, this may not even be the full picture of food poverty in the UK.

"The UK is the sixth richest country on the planet so something has gone grotesquely wrong when so many people, in and out of work, have to turn to charity to feed their children.

He said this was a "scandal of epic dimensions. It is no longer enough to say that we need to make hunger history - we need to make the government that supercharged this need history once and for all."

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