Foodbanks are on course to hand out more parcels than ever before as anti-poverty campaigners blame benefit delays and changes as the biggest reasons for the rise.
Between April and September 2016, Trussell Trust foodbanks across the UK distributed 519,342 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis compared to 506,369 during the same period last year.
More than 188,500 of these parcels were to children, the charity said.
The figures mean that the Trussell Trust’s foodbank network is on course to hand out the highest number of parcels in its 12-year history in 2016/17.
The Trussell Trust estimates that about 260,000 people are likely to have been unique users to the foodbank in the first six months of this financial year.
The charity has called for a hotline between foodbanks and local job centres to support people in crisis more quickly and efficiently.
Benefit delays and changes account for 44% of referrals to Trussell Trust foodbanks, the charity said.
Delays in benefits accounted for 27.4% and changes for 16.6%.
Low income was the second largest cause of a crisis, accounting for nearly one in four of all referrals to Trussell Trust foodbanks, driven by problems such as low pay, insecure work or rising costs.
David McAuley, chief executive of The Trussell Trust, said: “As the number of emergency food parcels provided to people by foodbanks rises once again, it’s clear that more can be done to get people back on their feet faster.
“Many foodbanks now host independent welfare and debt advisers but they cannot solve all the issues.
“To stop UK hunger we must make sure the welfare system works fairly and compassionately, stopping people getting to a point where they have no money to eat.”
The Trussell Trust recently welcomed moves by the Department for Work and Pensions to look again at disability benefits and Work Capability Assessments and proposes a phone hotline as another measure to help people out of crisis.
This would provide timely and invaluable trouble-shooting support for people referred to foodbanks because of problems with a welfare claim.
McAuley continued: “It feels like we could be seeing a new era at the DWP with a consultation on Work Capability Assessments and willingness to engage in dialogue with charities working on the front line.
“A telephone hotline could build on this and go a long way to improving foodbanks ability to help get people out of a crisis faster.”
The Trussell Trust said that its staff and volunteers spend a significant amount of time on hold to DWP phone lines on behalf of people in crisis.
The charity argues that a hotline would be a low cost solution that allows foodbank managers and volunteers to support those in serious crises more quickly and efficiently, reducing stress and negative impact on the mental wellbeing of people referred to the foodbank.
Coventry Foodbank works with Citizens Advice on the Restart Project, a Big Lottery-funded partnership which ensures holistic advice is offered in foodbanks.
The Trussell Trust said that the foodbank experienced a decrease of nearly 3,000 referrals in 2015-16 compared to 2014-15 and attributes some of this to the introduction of independent welfare advisers.
Volunteers at Coventry Foodbank provide advice to people at the foodbank and, if someone needs to talk to a senior caseworker from Citizens Advice, they can, immediately, using Skype. Of people who receive further assistance 79% do not return to the foodbank for support.
More than £700,000 was recouped for people in the form of; debts restructured, people accessing benefits they did not know they were eligible for and overturning sanctions.
Commenting on today’s mid-year figures released by the Trussell Trust, Labour MP Frank Field said: “That 260,000 people have needed to rely on a Trussell Trust food bank in the past six months is disturbing for two reasons: clearly large numbers of people comprising Britain’s vulnerable human underbelly are hungry, and there are likely to be at least as many people who have sought help from independent food banks.
“Others still will have suffered hunger in silence.”
Field is chair of Feeding Britain, a charity he established to implement proposals to counter hunger in the UK.
Field added: “Feeding Britain is winning some significant gains for the poor – including fairer energy prices, school holiday meals, and a quicker way of processing tax credit changes – but a key priority for the Government must be to knuckle down on processing people’s benefit claims as quickly and accurately as possible.
“Feeding Britain’s recommendation, picked up today by the Trussell Trust, for a dedicated benefits hotline for charities working with the poor needs to form a key part of the Government’s response, as does the development and extension of its Yellow Card policy on sanctions.
“Likewise the Trussell Trust and others need to set out in as precise detail as possible the problems that have left people hungry – which benefits are more prone to delays, for example, and what are the reasons driving low-paid workers to food banks – to help the Government channel its energies most effectively into preventing those problems occurring.”