The number of people using food banks has increased five-fold since the coalition came to power, and nearly tripled over the last year, with almost 350,000 people receiving emergency parcels from the Trussell Trust, the largest food bank provider in the UK.
Overall, the charity helped nearly 100,000 more people than it had anticipated over the last 12 months, and expects to see many more as a result of the government's controversial welfare reforms.
Chris Mould, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, told the Huffington Post UK that large numbers of people using food banks were not 'jobless scroungers' but were in work and "not earning enough in an economy in which prices are going up and incomes are flatlining."
He warned that the sheer volume of people needing help was a "wake-up call to the nation" saying "large numbers of people are going hungry and we can’t go on pretending it isnt happening. "
He said the Trussell Trust was expecting even more people using the food banks in coming months, as a raft of the government's welfare reforms come into force.
Claiming the benefit system is still not working, he told the Huffington Post UK: "With the decision to cap benefits, the government has taken a deliberate move to restrict the purchasing power of people vulnerable by definition: they are already eligible for tax credits and income support.
"Many millions of people are having to get by on incomes that are already precarious with no guarantee they can continue to afford food," he added.
"When rents and energy prices are going up and people have to make a decision between keeping a roof over their heads or going hungry, people choose to cut down on food.
"A large number of people are being thrown into crisis because there are problems with the benefit system, partly because there is lots of churn in the workforce and people are on benefits when they weren’t before.
"The system is not working well and large numbers of people are sometimes going weeks without any source of income at all."
Foodbank recipients are referred by doctors, social workers, schools liaison officers or advisers at the CAB and Jobcentre Plus.
Foodboxes contain at least three days' supply of non-perishable foods such as tinned fruit, vegetables, meat, tea and pasta. Mould said he saw working people coming in to visit food banks on their lunch-breaks, mums coming in to find help feeding their children and people who were unemployed who needed help.
"It's shocking that people are going hungry in 21st century Britain," he said.
In February the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier de Schutter told HuffPost UK that food banks must not be allowed to become a permanent fixture in the UK and Europe, or used by governments to "clear their conscience" and neglect their duty to protect the country's poorest people.
The emergency food banks are now accepted by governments as the norm, which they “absolutely should not be" said de Schutter.
It is the UK’s government’s duty to protect the poorest in society and part of their duty under human rights law, de Schutter said.
Oxfam's Director of UK Poverty, Chris Johnes, said: "These shocking figures show that a perfect storm of spiralling living costs, lack of decent, secure jobs and benefit changes are making it impossible for many people to feed themselves or their families. It's clear there is a massive hole in the safety net when so many more people are being forced to rely on emergency food handouts.
"We are worried this could be just the tip of the iceberg as changes to the welfare system already in the pipeline could rip apart the safety net with devastating consequences for those who rely on it.
"The government cannot ignore this situation any longer. Instead of taking money from people who can't feed themselves, the government should be targeting companies and wealthy individuals who are dodging the taxes which are their fair contribution to our society."