More than 13 million people in the UK are living below the poverty line, according to the latest government statistics. Since recession began, increasing numbers of Britons have been turning to foodbanks as the rising cost of food and fuel combined with static incomes and high unemployment has pushed people into a crisis where they cannot afford food.
The alarming news about food poverty is that it is not an issue arising exclusively among unemployed people, but it has started to affect people who have a job.
Last week Vickie and Mathew, a working couple, were helped by the foodbank. Their finances were stretched to breaking point after they had been made redundant from well-paid jobs and were forced to take low-paid ones instead. They've sold everything that they can and Vickie had gone without food for four days before she was referred to the foodbank by a children's centre. She told us that they can't afford any Christmas presents for their two young children, so she's been hiding some of their toys to give them something to unwrap on Christmas day.
The Trussell Trust, the charity I lead, has seen the problem of food poverty steadily grow since it launched its first foodbank in 2000. The fact that the Trussell Trust's Foodbank Network is launching three new foodbanks every week is clear evidence that there is widespread demand for emergency food help and an extraordinary willingness in local communities to help people in food poverty.
You might ask yourself what a Trussell Trust foodbank is. In a few words, it is a community-based, community-run project providing a minimum of three days nutritionally balanced food to people in crisis. We launched our pilot foodbank project in 2000. Since then we've been rolling out Trussell Trust foodbanks as a social franchise. Today there are 285 Trussell Trust foodbanks in the UK, 200 of which have launched in the last two years. We expect to feed over 230,000 people this year alone.
Food poverty is an issue that affects people in an extraordinarily wide range of circumstances: it isn't confined to the homeless or people on benefits. Less than five per cent of people helped by foodbanks are homeless. Many are working families who simply cannot make ends meet.
This is a serious issue, which hits families in poverty particularly at Christmas, as there is more pressure to spend extra money on presents and other celebrations. Plus, normal costs like heating and electricity go up in winter time and this Christmas is looking especially bleak for many following recent energy price rises. Tesco's Help Feed People in Need campaign against food poverty is ground-breaking: this is the first time that a national supermarket in the UK is partnering with foodbanks to help people in crisis. It means that the awareness about food poverty is growing and it is reaching a national audience.
Recently, Tesco's research showed that one in 10 people in the UK have experienced food poverty in the last 12 months. At the Trussell Trust, we know that food poverty is a growing issue among ordinary people in the UK and that when nothing is done to help, it can lead to crime, housing loss, family breakdown and mental ill-health. No-one in 21st Century Britain should be forced to go hungry.
For this reason, the Trussell Trust has partnered with Tesco and FareShare to launch the biggest ever nationwide food collection for people in crisis. By donating a can or two of food at local Tesco Extra, Superstore or participating Metro on 1 or 2 December we gave Tesco's customers a chance to help stop people going hungry this Christmas. #everycanhelps
Follow Chris Mould on Twitter: www.twitter.com/chrismould