New figures from the Trussell Trust reveal that a record number of almost 1.2 million emergency supplies were handed out at food banks last year alone. This represents a 6.4% increase over the last 12 months. That equates to 11,000 tonnes of food and over 10 million meals, nearly four million of which were for children.
In areas where the new benefit Universal Credit has been fully rolled out, there was an average increase in referrals for emergency food of almost 17%.
This means that referral rates in those areas are running at more than double the national average. In a particularly stark example, Oldham food bank reported that demand was so high it had been forced to limit the amount of food being given out.
Universal Credit, which combines six working-age benefits into a single payment, is due to be rolled out across the whole country in spite of the problems it has created. The six-week waiting period for Universal Credit payments, with no interim income, often has serious consequences. There are examples where it has contributed to relationship breakdowns and mental health difficulties caused by debt problems, rent arrears that it has precipitated.
The Trussell Trust, which runs a network of over 420 food banks, has called for a rethink in the six week qualifying period. Its chief executive, David McAuley, Chief Executive, said: "Food banks see first-hand how changes to the welfare system affect people on the ground and so can offer an early warning to decision-makers. We are sharing our early observations with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure any adverse side-effects Universal Credit can have on people are addressed before full rollout."
The introduction of Universal Credit has been dogged with problems ever since its inception. The evidence shows that it's not fit for purpose, but that is not the only reason for the shocking rise in food bank use. Increasing numbers of people have been forced into low paid and insecure employment. Labour's Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, says "the average wages [are] below 2007 levels and cuts to in-work support for families on low incomes; the rampant use of punitive sanctions have also had a devastating impact."
What kind of county is this? Is this the country that ordinary people built under a Labour government after the war, the one that gave us the NHS along with record growth rates making the UK one of the largest economy on the planet? No. This is the Conservative's austerity Britian.
In a further indictment of the Toryies' failed economics, the food bank figures were published on the same day as a damning report by MPs. Their enquiry had found up to three million children are going hungry during the school holidays with some experiencing "a significant" weight loss because of malnutrition.
Despite assurances by George Osborne in 2010 to the contrary, the Tories have been balancing the books on the backs of the poor. Their obsession with cuts has been a catastrophic failure as government borrowing has skyrocketed, public services have been decimated, living standards have deteriorated, poverty has proliferated and inequality has soared.
Labour's Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, was right to describe the situation as "a damning condemnation of the Tories' economic failure."
Labour is putting forward a coherent alternative policy programme that will tackle the cost of living crisis and the prospect of spiralling poverty by creating an economy that works for everyone, just as we did after the blight of world war. A Labour Government would recognise the symbiotic relationship between the public and private sector by investing in our economy, not starving it of funds.
Labour's plans to modernise the nation's infrastructure, build a million houses and establish a national investment bank will benefit business, address social needs, reduce inequality and grow the economy, especially in areas outside of the capital.
It's high time Britain had a Government that will stand up for the interests of the overwhelming majority, rather than pandering to the cosy cabal in London composed of Tory politicians, land lords and useless bureaucrats.