Politicians have no idea how to cope with the sudden upsurge in food bank use, and the prime minister must launch an urgent inquiry into why people are driven to ask for free food, the government's poverty tsar has said.
Labour MP Frank Field, who published a report last year on youth deprivation and early intervention, has called on David Cameron to launch an inquiry to develop an "effective anti-poverty strategy for families who draw help from the local food bank.
Field was the first Labour MP to be given a job with the coalition government. He told HuffPostUK that the growth of food banks had taken MPs by surprised, and many were genuinely troubled about how to tackle the problem.
"I hope very much that the Prime Minister will take this up, because it's in his political interests to try and solve this problem, before he's cornered on it."
"If you had told me at the beginning of my political career that I'd be addressing this kind of problem when I was coming to the end of my career, I'd have been gobsmacked," he added.
Field said he was concerned that food banks did not become an accepted part of the welfare state.
THE LETTER IN FULL
Education Secretary Michael Gove came under fire recently for comments suggesting that foodbanks were intended for people who could not manage their household budgets.
Field, a former welfare minister who has spent three years investigating poverty in the UK for the coalition government, said that could indeed be part of the problem, but one of the problem was many poor families "simply not knowing how to cook". He also cited benefit delays as one of the key problems he had encountered on a visit to the Matthew Tree Project in Bristol.
"I think many MPs are as perplexed as I am," he said. "Food banks seem like a long-gone notion from the 1930s. Even four years ago no-one had heard of such a thing and we must get to the bottom of the causes."
The UK's largest network of foodbanks, the Trussell Trust, only accepts clients who are referred by a doctor, social worker, CAB or schools liaison officer.
In 2008-09 Trussell Trust foodbanks gave three days’ emergency food to 26,000 people nationwide; in 2012-13, that figure was 346,992. There are now over 380 Trussell Trust foodbanks nationwide.