Children no longer getting free school meals during the summer holidays has led a network of foodbanks to make an urgent appeal for more donations.
The Trussell Trust said it was expecting a rush of families seeking help once schools closed, but warned ministers its foodbanks “must not be a long term solution to hunger at any time of year”.
The charity’s 420 foodbanks provided more than 204,000 three-day emergency supplies last summer, 74,000 of which went to children, 3,500 more than in May and June.
It comes amid a flurry of reports that foodbanks across the UK are short of supplies, including in Carlisle, South Shields, Nottingham, Manchester, Droitwich, Braintree and Glasgow.
“There are changes we can make as a nation to help during the holidays, but if we are to protect each other from hunger whatever the time of year, we have to go further than that.
“We know particular groups of people are most likely to need a foodbank, so let’s make sure no-one is swept into destitution.
“Our benefits system can, and must, act as an anchor to protect people from being pulled into poverty.”
The charity said more than a third of food distributed by its network throughout the year goes to children, but there is extra financial pressure to provide main meals during the school holidays for families who rely on free school meals.
Last summer more food was distributed by the Trust than was donated, prompting the charity to ask the public to help out this year.
Margaret Greenwood, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “It is a scandal that this summer, thousands of families are having to rely on foodbanks to stave off hunger.
“Child poverty in the UK shows no sign of slow down; over four million children are growing up in poverty and that number is set to rise sharply over this Parliament as a direct result of government policies.
“The government needs to take stock of the impact that its social security policies are having on the health and wellbeing of children.”
A report by End Child Poverty last year found some areas where almost half of all children were living in poverty, including 43.6% of children in Manchester, 42.33% in Birmingham, 40.5% in Leicester and 39.53% in Bradford.
Labour MP Frank Field, who led a cross-party investigation into hunger, said: “The spike in the numbers of families using food banks in the holidays, in the absence of free school meals, is more grim evidence of how near so many children are to destitution.”
He added: “In areas where such projects have already been active, the need for food banks among families has fallen and children have returned to school healthier and better prepared to learn.”
A government spokesman said it had handed money to organisations helping families with food over the summer.
He said: “We are committed to supporting families to improve their lives, and employment remains the best route to achieve that.
“We recently announced a £2 million fund for organisations to support disadvantaged families during the school holidays, which can include providing healthy meals.
“Meanwhile, we have a record employment rate, household incomes have never been higher and there are 300,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty than in 2010.
“Our welfare reforms offer parents tailored support to move into work, ensuring that even more families can enjoy the opportunities and benefits that work can bring.”